Right now, in this strong Seller’s Market, you won’t see too many Sellers offering a Home Warranty to potential Buyers. But in times when there is more inventory of homes and things are more competitive for Sellers, it can help set their home apart — and reassure Buyers about a home that’s more than a few years old.

Assurance for Buyers…and Sellers

After all, Home Warranties cover many appliances and systems of a home and are therefore great to have if you’re worried about something breaking down. So it’s not a bad thing for Sellers to consider offering, even now, especially if appliances and systems like an HVAC unit or hot water heater hasn’t been recently replaced and is no longer covered by a manufacturer’s warranty. In fact, Sellers can even sign up for what’s called a Seller’s Plan to cover them during the listing period and through to Settlement. Then, if an appliance were to malfunction during that time period, the Seller would be covered, saving them money from costly repair or replacement when they’re getting ready to sell the home. (Imagine the frustration of having your dishwasher break down a couple weeks after listing your home!) On the day of Settlement, this Seller’s Plan can be converted to a Buyer’s Plan to cover the new owner for a year.


Who Pays?

Who pays for a Home Warranty really depends on market factors and the negotiating skills of your Realtor. Again, right now Buyers and their agents don’t have a lot of negotiating power and are even opting for “Void Only” inspections just to make their offer more attractive versus other offers. (A “Void Only” inspection allows the Buyer to void the contract if they find something that is displeasing to them during the inspection, but they can’t submit a list of repair requests to the Seller.) This is all the more reason — if the home is older and without updated appliances and systems — for a Buyer to talk to their Realtor about asking the Seller to consider paying for a Home Warranty. It’s a relatively small cash outlay — and again, can also protect the Seller from the beginning of the Listing Period through to Settlement.


If a Seller refuses to pay, a Buyer would be well advised to consider buying a Home Warranty on their own. Again, it’s peace of mind as a new homeowner. The last thing you want to be dealing with is costly repairs soon after moving into a home.

What Type of Home Warranty is Best?

There are many Home Warranty companies out there, and some are certainly better than others. You’ll want one that has five-star technicians who know what they’re doing — and who actually fix problems as opposed to taking a “band-aid” approach. When things can’t be properly fixed, you want a company that will pay for replacement. Some companies even offer “Maintenance” services like window cleaning, lock re-keying, carpet cleaning, and pest control for a small co-pay.

Whether a Seller or Buyer pays for a Home Warranty, it can be paid for at Closing.

Reach out to us if you have any questions about companies we recommend — or Home Warranties in general.

I like to address topics in my monthly newsletter that come up when I’m talking with clients. This month, I’d like to talk about Zillow’s “Zestimates.” A Zestimate is Zillow’s term for their estimated value of your home. While sometimes it is pretty accurate (they give a range), other times it isn’t. In fact, the CEO of Zillow apparently said the Zestimate for his own home was not accurate!

It makes sense, if you think about it. After all…

How would Zillow know exactly what upgrades you have in your house?

They look at the zip code, the assessed value in the public record, the square footage, and what comparable homes based on those factors have sold for.

But there is no way for them to know if you’ve just upgraded your kitchen, renovated your Master Bath, or if your home has good landscaping and curb appeal (worth a lot, to be sure!).

Some zip codes (like ones in Loudoun and Fairfax County) often have multiple high schools — and certainly many elementary and middle schools. Some may be higher ranked than others, affecting property values, but Zillow doesn’t account for that.


Other things Zillow misses: finished basements (since many weren’t properly permitted if done after settlement), busy streets, and desirability of a lot based on views, trees, privacy, etc. And last but not least, structural and systems improvements like a new roof, new HVAC unit, or new hot water heater add value to your home, but Zillow wouldn’t know about these, either.

As I like to say, “Friends don’t let friends rely on Zestimates!”

It’s important to get a more accurate feel from a local Realtor® if you’re giving serious consideration to selling your home. Call or email us if you’d like us to do a free analysis of your home’s value. We’ll take all the above factors into account.

One more caveat about using Zillow for home searches: Because they syndicate the information from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) that Realtors® like us have access to, there’s a lag of a day or two on new listings and in reporting homes that have already gone under contract. This makes a big difference when looking for a home in this competitive market. You also won’t always be able to see Coming Soon listings in Zillow. That’s why it’s always good to be working with a Realtor® who can set you up with a customized daily email of listings directly from the MLS that fit your criteria…and that contains the most current information to give you the advantage you need vs. other buyers. Let us know if you’d ever like us to set up a search tool for you!

We get a lot of questions about home staging. It’s something that’s become part of our vernacular as Realtors® in the past decade or two, and a lot of Sellers are confused by what it means.

Some people assume home staging is renting fancy furniture to make the home look like a model home. But technically, staging is everything you do to present your home in the best possible way for a quick and successful sale. It can encompass everything from minor repairs to a kitchen facelift to a full bathroom renovation. But it can also be as simple as de-cluttering, de-personalizing (removing family photos and knick-knacks), putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls, cleaning up the yard, or replacing door knobs and bathroom fixtures.

The Right Furniture — Placed Well — Can Help Home Buyers Envision the Scale and Possibilities for a Room 

Staging can also involve re-arranging existing furniture to open up a space or make it look bigger…or it might mean working on lighting to give a home a brighter, cheerier look. After all, you want the professional photos of your home to really WOW potential Buyers.


We can almost always work with clients’ existing furniture, but sometimes a situation arises in which a client has already moved out and we’re left with a vacant home, as with the example above. While it’s totally fine to show a vacant home, it doesn’t allow people to see a home’s potential. Ideally, you want to give Buyers a feel for the scale of a room — and more importantly, you want them to picture themselves living in your beautiful home. One option for vacant homes is to hire a stager to bring in furniture. But if that doesn’t appeal to you (or your budget), we can do “virtual staging.” Photos are taken, and a virtual stager works some magic with online software to make your home appear “staged” with furniture for photos in the MLS.

Look at the Difference Virtual Staging Can Make

For example, the photo above is a recent client’s empty upstairs “Loft” area BEFORE we had it virtually staged. Below is how it looked AFTER virtually staging it. Of course, we make it clear to Agents and Buyers looking at photos in the MLS that rooms are virtually staged (and many times we show photos of the rooms empty as well). We need to be transparent in that regard, and obviously when they go see the home in person, they’ll see that it’s empty. But virtual staging is a low-cost way to help Buyers envision how to best utilize the space. Because home offices are one of the most highly sought-after features of a home right now, we staged this Loft with a desk to suggest a way to to create a cozy workspace even though the home doesn’t technically have a “home office.” Home gyms are a huge selling point right now, too, and virtual staging can allow you to showcase an area of the basement that you might carve out for fitness equipment.



If you have any questions about Virtual Staging — or other ways to portray your home in the best light for a future sale — let us know. We can provide a complimentary consultation — either in person or via FaceTime.  


Who doesn’t like good BEFORE and AFTER photos…especially of a home? The photos below were from “Before” a recent renovation of my client’s investment property, which he was looking to sell. He knew he needed to update literally everything in the condo to turn a profit on the sale. In fact, without doing any renovations, he probably would have had to sell the property “as is” and lost money.


And why sell a property “as is,” only for an investor or “flipper” to do the renovation and make a profit? It’s your property…you deserve to be the one earning a return on that initial investment…that is, if you can afford to make another investment in the renovation work.

How To Pay for Necessary Pre-Sale Home Renovations if You Don’t Have the Cash

But what happens if you don’t necessarily have tens of thousands of dollars in cash sitting around to plunk down on a renovation project? Well, if you’re looking to SELL the property, there are some companies that will work with you to creatively solve that problem.

My client and I enlisted the help of Bill Cheek of The Smart Homes Group. Bill was introduced to me early this year, pre-pandemic. His business model seemed to fit with exactly what my client needed…a good, reliable contractor who could do a complete renovation of a one-bedroom condo — and wait to receive payment until closing. 

Yes, you heard that right. While it’s almost too good to be true, some contractors will agree to do this, especially in a hot Seller’s Market like we’re experiencing right now. After all, when homes are often selling in a matter of days or weeks (especially if they’ve been renovated), it’s not a terribly high risk for the contractor. This condo sold in 6 days!


As you can see from the “After” photos above, we chose all the most popular fixtures and finishes — luxury vinyl plank flooring, light grey paint, white cabinets, granite countertops, a beautiful backsplash, and stainless steel appliances — all in a grey and white color palette. EVERYTHING was updated or replaced, including closets and light fixtures…and even the HVAC unit. Bill is often able to search around to find the best prices, too, as long as you’re somewhat flexible on choices. For example, he knew we wanted stainless steel appliances, white hardwood cabinets, and granite countertops in a white/taupe/grey color palette, and he found really high-quality products at a good price.

Contact Bill at The Smart Homes Group for Your Next Home Project

So if you’re thinking about selling a property that needs some work first (whether it’s your primary residence or an investment property), give Bill a call. (But call me, Karen, for the home sale part!!) Even if you’re not looking to sell right away and just searching for a great contractor, Bill and his team tackle traditional jobs like finishing basements, upgrading kitchens and baths, and laying flooring. You name it, they do it. Call him at 813-732-3982, and let him know I referred you. (I don’t get referral fees for things like this…but I like to let the contractors I’ve used know I have enough confidence in them to keep recommending them! Plus, mentioning Karen and Maggie from 15 West Homes means he will take great care of you!)

Catching up with lender partner Michael Kenyon on the loan market! Interest rates have fallen through June and July amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Catching up with lender partner Michael Kenyon on the loan market! The market continues to shift amidst the COVID pandemic and businesses trying to get back to normal.

Catching up with lender partner Michael Kenyon on the loan market! The market continues to shift amidst the COVID pandemic and businesses trying to get back to normal. We discuss what it looks like now and strategies for purchasing or refinancing.

Here’s what you need to know

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our economy has us all wondering how this will impact the housing market, especially for those of you who were planning to sell or buy during the busy spring market. 

As we know from the last major economic downturn, the NoVA area doesn’t seem to be as impacted as the national market. That said, with the impacts the virus has had on employment and the local economy, concern about the real estate market is justified. 

Zillow’s recent housing market projections forecasts a dip in home prices of 2%-3% through the end of 2020 from pre-coronavirus levels. They also predict a pretty steep decline in home sales, forecasted at 60%, before we recover to baseline levels by the end of 2021. That said, our local market data is showing new listings and closings and showings (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) are tracking closely to 2019 levels. Showings are a bit off (Fig. 3), but clearly that doesn’t seem to be stopping sellers and purchasers from listing and buying. 


Fig. 2

Fig. 3

And, not surprisingly, inventory levels remain low (Fig.4), which means if you targeted the spring to put your home on the market, it’s still a good time to sell.

Fig. 4

If you want to discuss your specific situation and goals, email me at [email protected] and let’s talk!

We find ourselves at an interesting point in the real estate market right now. Within just a few weeks we’ve gone from a frenzied sellers’ market and a flurry of re-financings as mortgage rates hit historic lows…to our “new normal” of closures, cancellations, and shutdowns that the tragic COVID-19 has brought.

People are wondering if the strong sellers’ market in northern Virginia will continue — after all, it’s been one of the most resilient markets in the country.

If you find yourself questioning whether it’s a good time to buy or sell…or if you should “wait it out,” please read on for some perspective…

Is now a good time to BUY?

If you have a secure job and have been considering a move — especially “moving up” to a larger home, low interest rates and the new economic uncertainly can certainly work in your favor. You’ll be able to get more for your money, and sellers may be willing to negotiate a bit…something that wasn’t happening in the midst of our low inventory environment. As an example, in February Loudoun County’s active listings were down over 20% from February 2019. But February sales were up over 11% over February 2019. There were more people buying, but choosing from a decreased supply of homes. This resulted in a lot of frustrated would-be buyers.

Our current situation may present an opportunity for buyers to have a fighting chance at the home of their dreams, versus our recent climate of competing against numerous other buyers.

But be aware that with physical distancing, sellers and agent have to be creative about showing properties (likely virtually). Everything, including appraisals and inspections may be done a bit differently. With that said, there has continued to be strong activity in northern Virginia over the past couple weeks, with contracts being ratified and people moving forward with their home buying plans. Activity on the new construction front has also been pretty steady, as I experienced last weekend when out looking at new homes with a buyer client. Showings are by appointment only and need to adhere to safe protocol, but they are still happening in person (or virtually if you prefer).

Is now a good time to SELL, or should I wait it out?

This may be a bit harder to read, but what we’ve learned from past economic downturns is that sellers who list their property sooner, rather than later, tend to be glad they did. We don’t know for sure how long an economic downturn in our country might last, once we emerge from our current business standstill. But I think we can all agree that it may be a long road back to economic strength. It may be better to take a bit less for your home now than risk a bigger price adjustment later on. Fortunately, sellers are coming from a position of strength, and the market is very different than it was preceding the 2008 housing bust.

Demand has been strong.

  • Again, it bears repeating: We’ve just recently been in an incredibly strong sellers’ market with high demand and low inventory
  • The market can certainly support a bit more inventory for sale.
  • Historic low mortgage rates bode well for the housing market going forward, helping to sustain demand.

Supply shouldn’t hit the levels it did in 2008 because…

  • We are unlikely going to see a rash of foreclosures, because sellers aren’t as over-leveraged as they were back in 2008, when many homeowners tapped their over-inflated equity and ended up upside down on their mortgages when the market crashed.
  • Lenders’ standards have been stricter than preceding the 2008 housing bust.

If you’ve been thinking about listing your home but are a bit spooked, remember that buyers are still out there! People who list early — before any downward pressure on the market may set in — are typically very thankful. Contact either me or Maggie to discuss your own situation. At 15 West Homes and Keller Williams, we continue to find smart and creative ways to serve our clients and get business done, even under the toughest and most unprecedented circumstances.

Experts are saying that thanks to the President’s trade war with China, interest rates continue to fall, having a positive effect on the housing market. 

According to Freddie Mac’s Primary Mortgage Market Survey, home-loan interest rates continued to plummet in late June to the lowest level since November 2016. On June 27, benchmark 30-year fixed mortgages averaged 3.73 percent nationwide, down from 3.84 percent a week earlier.

This was the seventh time in the last nine weeks that rates moved lower. Freddie Mac reported interest charges hit the lowest level since November 2016 when 30-year fixed mortgage rates averaged 3.54 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year fixed loans averaged 4.55 percent.

Buyers – if you are looking to buy, don’t wait, you can get more dream home for your money with these low interest rates. 

Sellers –  we all know it’s a great time to sell and if you need to purchase a new home now’s the time to get your house on the market!

After all of the preparation required to list your home, you are probably ready to relax and wait for offers. While most of the hard work is done, it is important to keep in mind things that you may run into during the sale process. As you begin to welcome potential buyers into your home, here are a few things to expect now that your home is listed!

1. You might feel like you live in a museum.

You may have spent a great deal of time cleaning and decluttering, but now you are going to need to maintain that cleanliness. Potential buyers are going to expect a home that was as neat as the listing photos they saw, so it is important to meet their expectations. Now that you have officially listed your home, maintenance is necessary. There may be showings where you don’t have time to do a full deep-clean, so choosing to keep your home ‘show-ready’ will help reduce any stress about the appearance of your home for a showing.

2. There will be some inconveniences. 

Now that you’ve realized your home needs to be ‘show-ready’ at all times, you might be starting to think that there could be an inconvenience or two during this part of home-selling. While your real estate agent will be helpful in this process, you may need to switch around plans during the evenings or weekends when you are typically home so that your home can be shown.

3.  Expect to hear critiques and criticism.

This is often the main thing that first-time home sellers struggle with. It is not always easy to hear the issues a potential buyer may have with the home you have created. While some criticism can feel insulting, it is important to remember that it is not personal. Potential buyers are not trying to hurt your feelings, they just want to picture your home as their own. Your agent can be a key part in buffering criticism. They will be able to take suggestions from potential buyers and relay it to you in a way that is helpful and constructive.

4. Home maintenance will be crucial.

While maintaining home cleanliness is important, you will also need to keep up with maintenance tasks. Your lawn will need to be mowed, your heating and cooling systems need to be operating properly, as well as any appliances that will be staying when your home sells. 

5. There can be some additional expenses.

After you’ve accepted an offer, the closing process will begin. There will be inspections and final walk-throughs, and this can bring about issues that may need resolved before the sale is closed. Depending on the issue, you may need to pay out-of-pocket for repairs so that you don’t need to negotiate your sale price. 

If you’re ready to sell your home and need someone by your side to guide you as you prepare to list, give me a call today!

So you’re ready to put your home on the market and to you, everything looks great. Unfortunately, much of the wear and tear on your home becomes unnoticeable when it is something you see everyday. While you may not think about the one light switch that doesn’t work or the chipping paint in the guest bedroom, now is the time to take a step back and look at your home with fresh eyes. When you decide to sell your home, the first thing you should do is make any repairs you can to save yourself money in the long run. Here are a few repairs to cross off so you can get the best deal for your home!

1. Paint Your Walls

Re-painting the rooms that need a fresh face is the cheapest way to update the appearance of your home. Consider using light, neutral colors to appeal to a broader group of buyers. If the room is too dark or has chipped or dirty paint, make it look brand new with a coat of paint. 

2. Make Minor Kitchen Repairs

Even if your kitchen isn’t large and spacious, a full renovation might not make sense financially. If your agent doesn’t advise you towards a renovation, consider making minor repairs instead. Paint what needs painted and install new fixtures where necessary. If your appliances aren’t operating properly or are in awful shape, you will need to replace them.

3. Update Your Bathroom

The first priority is making sure your bathroom looks clean. If the toilet looks old, replace the seat to give it a fresh new appearance. Replace any tiles that may be missing, clean the grout, and remove old wallpaper that may still remain. This is a room you should consider painting if need be to make it appear bright and clean.

4. Fix The Exterior

The outside of your home is the first thing buyers will see, so it is important that it looks good. Touch up the yard with sod as needed, remove any junk that may be in the yard, and make sure your fencing doesn’t have any missing parts or boards. Mow your grass and consider renting a power washer to make your siding look brand new. 

5. Maximize Lighting

The goal is to maximize light so you can maximize the appearance of space. Light does a great job of making rooms look larger than they are. Update your fixtures, ensure that your windows appear clean and new, and add mirrors across from light sources to reflect even more light. 

6. Ensure Functionality

Potential buyers are going to want everything to work. Do a full walk through of your home, checking all light switches, doorknobs, and locks. Repair or replace anything that doesn’t work as it should. The less issues that arise during the buyer’s home inspection, the better chance of you maximizing your profit during the sale.