Chicken or the Egg?? Shop for a Home or Qualify for a loan??

Homeowners often struggle with the decision to look for a house (the fun part) or get pre-qualified for a mortgage loan (the less-fun portion) first.

While “which to do first” is a good question, it offers a false choice. That’s because the answer to what to do is: both.


As an experienced Realtor, I know your offer to buy a home needs to not only have the right price, but we need to persuade the seller that you can afford it. So, I advise buyers to include in their offer a mortgage lender’s pre-qualified/pre-approval letter. That way, the buyer sees that you not only like the home but have the credit and finances to buy it. It is also convenient to have when a seller needs to choose among multiple offers – some of which may not include that letter. (I know this since when working for sellers, I always look to see if an offer includes proof of the ability to afford the home.)

If you’re not sure how much home you can afford, a lender can solve that reasonably quickly by telling you the maximum mortgage you qualify for even before a letter is complete. Also, Northern Virginia is low on inventory right now, so if you find “the one,” you need to be able to act quickly. In some instances, there can even be multiple buyers vying for the same house, and you don’t want your dream home to slip away because you aren’t fully prepared. Doing both at the same time – shopping and getting your documents together for a lender’s letter – puts you in the driver’s seat when looking for your next home. 

Speaking of letters, there is a difference between a pre-qualification and pre-approval letter from your lender. Pre-qualification is when a lender checks your income, credit score, assets, and debts based (mostly) on the information you provide. Pre-approval is the same information but verified by the lender. The pre-approval letter, of course, takes a bit longer and has more weight with a seller, but both help a seller see your offer in a better light. 

BenefitsYou can start house-hunting knowing how much you might be able to borrowYou’ll be ready to make an offer with confidence—and gain a competitive advantage
ProcessProvide basic information to a lender and quickly get a prequalification amountAfter submitting documentation to a lender, you should receive a decision within 2-3 business days
DocumentationAnswer questions for this process, plus a credit checkProvide proof of financial details, plus a credit check

In competitive situations it may make sense to go the extra mile and get pre-approval letter, this shows the seller and the seller’s agent you’re that much closer to getting a loan approved. “Getting “pre-approved”  provides you the comfort and allows your mind to be put  at ease!.  It’s fast and easy as  1.2.3 . A simple credit check, income and asset review all within 24 hours”, says Branch Manager for Prime Lending’ Fairfax Office, Christina Fuscaldo.

One more benefit of a lender’s letter: when you’ve included one with your offer, the seller’s agent may call your lender to make sure that things look on track for a final mortgage within the contract’s required time. This gives a seller even more reason to accept your offer! Don’t worry, your lender won’t divulge your private information – just the status of your loan. 

So go ahead and start shopping for a new home and while you are doing that, get your document-ducks in a row with your lender to demonstrate to the seller you can actually afford the house and close the deal.

I have the honor of currently representing several buyers. A few are first-time buyers and a few are experienced buyers. Even the experienced buyers are a bit nervous about finding their dream home in today’s current market. Low mortgage rates make this an excellent time to buy but with inventory rates also at an all-time low that makes for a competitive seller’s market as buyers have to compete with multiple offers.

There are several things you can do as a buyer to set yourself up for success—including partnering with an agent who works on your behalf—but buyers can also work with a reputable local lender BEFORE you start your home search.

I reached out to a wonderful local lender partner and friend, Kristi Hard of Atlantic Coast Mortgage, to get some of her tips to share with home buyers who are interested in entering the market but may be a bit intimidated by the competition. Kristi recommends two things in this scenario.

  1. Get pre-approved with a good local lender who knows the area and has a good reputation. They should also be willing to call the listing agent to put in a good word for you.
  2. Also, larger down payments or earnest money deposits also strengthens your position.

You should also understand your must-haves, do your research first with your agent, hone in on your desired neighborhoods, and communicate openly with your agent. A good agent should be easy to communicate with and communicate with you the way you want to be communicated to.

Also, be ready to act on a home that meets you and your family’s needs. Once you’ve decided on the property, there are several things your agent can do on your behalf.

I’d be happy to discuss your housing needs and how we can put you in the best position to move into your dream home. Please reach out to me at [email protected] or 703-507-7122.

Snow continues to fall in Loudoun County, but it’s never too early to start planning for the spring to come. As many of us have spent more time in our homes these past 12 months than ever before, it’s never the wrong time to do some spring cleaning—and home improvements.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, there are a lot of simple, DIY home improvement projects you can tackle to help get your home spring-ready.

1. Build a High Rise Vegetable Garden

An empty raised vegetable garden box

If you’re interested in planting a vegetable garden this spring, now is the perfect time to build a raised bed. There are a lot of different tutorials out there on how to build one, and we opted for this taller version which was made in less than 90 minutes using 4x4s and 1x6s. We laid some landscaping fabric then added soil before planting some jalapeno plants!

2. Install Weatherstripping

Flowers sit in a wooden vase next to the window

While spending more time at home, you might have noticed some drafts coming from your windows. It’s easier than ever now to install permanent or temporary weatherstrippping around your windows and doors to help eliminate those drafts. You’ll also lower your heating bills by making sure your furnace doesn’t have to work so hard. A great time to do this right after you finish letting the paint dry on your freshly painted front door…

3. Paint Your Front Door

A quaint home with a bright red door and white picket fence

If you’re looking to instantly improve your home’s curb appeal, consider a fresh coat of paint on your front door. Front doors often take a beating from and fade over time because of the elements, and a fresh coat of paint is easy to apply and will instantly give your home new life. Make sure you check with your HOA in case there are any rules about colors or a specific type of paint.

4. Upgrade Your Builder-Grade Shower Head

A rain shower head runs next to a window

Most builder-grade shower heads work just fine, but if you haven’t replaced yours in a while, or if you’d like to upgrade your showering experience, a new shower head can make all the difference. For the most part, replacing shower heads is relatively easy—just make sure to follow the instructions!

5. Swap Your Shower Curtain

A new floral shower current hangs in a bathroom

Since you’re already in your bathroom, it’s also ridiculously easy and affordable to change your shower curtain. Your shower curtain takes up a lot of visual real estate in your bathroom, and a brand new one can freshen things up.

6. Frame the Bathroom Mirror

A framed mirror hangs in a gray and wood bathroom

This bathroom DIY project takes a little bit more patience than upgrading your shower head and swapping out your shower curtain, but framing your bathroom mirror can help add some brilliant finishing touches to your updated bathroom. With a tape measure, some molding, paint, wood glue, and a little patience, you can turn your boring mirror into a piece of art.

7. Install (Magnetic) Carriage Garage Doors

Magnets transform a standard garage door to a carriage-house look

We saw this hack on social media recently, and it’s probably the quickest, easiest, and least expensive DIY home improvement project on this list. Carriage house garage doors offer an excellent aesthetic to your home, but they can be expensive. However, you can order some magnetic garage door hinges and handles to give your garage door that carriage-house look for less than $12—and in less than 12 minutes!

Have you completed any home improvement projects recently? Send us the pictures on Facebook or Instagram so we can showcase your work!

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.

According to the latest Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report from the National Association of Realtors, millennials make up the largest segment of homebuyers today. And, one of the key criteria they have for shopping for homes are features that would be beneficial for their pets. 

  • A full 73 percent of millennials currently own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association.
  • A whopping 89 percent of millennials who bought a home so far this year own a pet, according to
  • For this demographic, 79 percent of pet-owning homebuyers who closed on a property this year said they would pass up an otherwise perfect home if it didn’t meet the needs of their pets, according to a survey.

In addition, approximately 66% of U.S. households currently own a pet or plan to get one, this has increased since COVID-19.  43% of U.S. households would be willing to move or change their living situation to accommodate their pet.

And, the one big feature many pet owners want? You guessed it, a pet shower. This feature has been a growing trend for years. I have a friend who started a remodel to build a dog shower for her dogs. In addition, here are other features that are of interest to pet lovers:

  • Pet friendly flooring – Luxury Vinyl plank and laminate flooring are favorites 
  • Feeding stations
  • Hidden trash bins
  • Hidden litter box stations
  • Pet gates (good for little humans too)
  • Ramps for older pets
  • Enclosed patios for cats

What pet features do you have or plan on incorporating into your home?

Even in the days of the novel coronavirus, we are still seeing many situations where there are multiple offers on a home. That’s certainly the case in this resilient northern Virginia market. If you’ve ever been a buyer in this situation, you know it can be confusing and stressful. Even today, it’s wise to assume your offer will not be the only one submitted, especially if it’s a well priced and nicely maintained home.  

Does that mean you don’t stand a chance? Absolutely not. If you work closely with your agent and keep these 9 strategies in mind, you’ll put yourself at an advantage over other competing offers and get noticed by the seller.

  1. Price is not always the main priority of the seller. Make sure your agent contacts the listing agent before an offer is written to find out what’s important to the seller. This should be done as a matter of course in any situation. 
  2. Make sure you are pre-approved from a good local lender. These days, sellers won’t even consider offers from buyers who are not pre-approved (pre-qualification is a lower hurdle and is not as strong). You will always be up against other buyers who are pre-approved. Don’t know where to start? Your agent is a great source of lender referrals, and this step should be taken at least several weeks before starting to look at homes. That way, when you find the home of your dreams, you’ll be ready to take action and have your offer taken seriously. 
  3. Increase the amount of your Earnest Money Deposit (EMD). This shows you are serious and want the home. Sellers know that a buyer is much less likely to walk away from a sale if they put down a significant EMD. The earnest money deposit gets credited back to you, the buyer, at closing, so there is minimal risk in putting down more. 
  4. Do not ask for closing cost assistance. Asking the seller to take money out of their pocket is not a tactic to employ in multiple offer situations. The less money out of their pocket the better. To them, it equates to reducing the price of the home.
  5. Consider an escalation clause to mitigate offering too much. That way, you can offer more, but only in increments and only if necessary. Odd-value increments like $1,200 or $1,500 are a good strategy as most people use $1,000 increments. You also have the option to retain the appraisal contingency so if the home does not appraise for what you offered, you have options — including voiding the contract.
  6. Shorten timelines on any contingency. Work with your lender and agent to minimize the time it takes to get financing approval, the appraisal and any inspections — while still protecting you as a buyer. 
  7. Be flexible regarding the closing date. If you have flexibility, offer to work around the seller’s preference for a closing timeline. IF that’s important to the seller.  
  8. Give the seller money. Yes, you heard it right, offer to pay some of their closing costs (like taxes or settlement fees). It’s a creative way to get your offer to stand out.
  9. “Love letters” to the seller are also an option. Let the seller know how much you love their home and what they have done with it. Make it as personal as possible — a handwritten note is definitely the way to go if there is time. If not, send a PDF of the letter. Try to find commonality or connection with the seller…did something in particular really stand out to you when you walked through the home? Did your agent uncover some relevant information when talking to the listing agent that might put your offer at an advantage? If so, use it. Make sure there are no spelling or grammar errors in your note, and close with gratitude and thanks.

On behalf of the 15 West Homes Real Estate team, we hope you, your family and loved ones are healthy and safe during these uncertain and stressful times. Given the last few week’s events and looking ahead to what we all must do to get through this challenge together, I want to update you on our actions and the Northern Virginia market perspective at 15 West Homes.

From the outset of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), our priority has been the health and safety of our team, clients, partners and the community. We have taken multiple measures to reduce risk through education, virtual meetings and showings and have adopted precautions outlined by the CDC. While we are staying laser-focused on a “Health and Safety First” mission (Guidance for Sellers with Showings & Public Open Houses- Click here), we recognize our responsibility to help you decipher the overwhelming volume of incoming information and navigate through heightened uncertainty. The continued strength in the real estate market locally and the unprecedented strong fundamentals of the industry in Northern Virginia before the coronavirus outbreak are two main factors to consider when deciding to sell or purchase a home at this time of uncertainty.

In fact, depending on the length and depth of the measures needed to reduce community passing of the virus, we could see a rapid economic recovery on the other end of the current curve. This is why we are taking measures to contact potential buyers and sellers in this market to meet virtually and begin planning now. So whether you need to buy or sell a home now for relocation, employment, or any reason, we want you to know we are here to help you to move through the process and are as dedicated as we have ever been — all while keeping your health and safety a top priority. If you have decided to wait to purchase a home or list your home due to COVID-19, I still advise you to contact us to set up a virtual meeting so we can discuss the next steps to ensure you are prepared for the economic recovery.

For over 5 years, long-term relationships and partnering with our clients through thick and thin have been our guiding principles and still drive our team every day. We hope you view our resources and knowledge as an extension of yours and that you continue to count on us to support you as you evaluate your home selling, purchasing or general real estate needs. We look forward to getting through this chapter together with health, safety and success.

We all know inventory of existing homes is historically low in the northern Virginia area — and in many parts of the country — right now. If you’re getting frustrated submitting offers on homes — only to find you’ve been outbid or someone else’s contract was accepted over yours for other reasons — you may want to consider new home construction.

While you may pay a slight premium over the price of resale homes, everything is, of course, brand new — without the wear and tear you can expect from homes that are even a few years old. Plus, you get to pick and choose the options, so your home is exactly that — yours. You select the site, the floor plan, the exterior, the flooring and carpet, the countertops, the cupboards, the bathroom fixtures, and more. Everything is based on your taste.

When you sit back and think about it, isn’t that what we’d all like?

I wish we’d used a Realtor buying our own new home years ago…

Some buyers mistakenly opt to work without an agent, thinking there’s no need to have representation when buying new construction. But that can be short-sighted. There are, in fact, numerous reasons to use a Realtor. I wish my husband and I had thought of this 17 years ago when we purchased our own home. It was a bit overwhelming, not having ever built before, and we could have really benefitted from the expert advice of a Realtor working on our behalf. Plus, an agent would have saved us dozens of hours of our own time looking over lists of upgrade options, making calls back and forth to the builder, and visiting the home site periodically to ensure things were correct and on track.

And, to clarify, you’re not saving money by choosing to work on your own, as buyers agents are typically paid by sellers or builders, not buyers. As it turns out, one local builder recently told our real estate team that 90% of their new home buyers work with Realtors. 


Here are the Top 10 reasons to consider using a Realtor when buying new home construction from a builder. 

  • You’ll have an advocate representing your interests.
  • You’ll find out about things the builder may not be obligated to volunteer (news of a new highway being put in close to your home site, changing school zones, the fact that you can hire a home inspector to inspect your home before settlment, or noisy construction nearby that will continue for years).
  • You’ll have someone to help you compare and negotiate incentives offered by builders at various communities.
  • You’ll have an objective party to advise you on whether certain incentives are worth it (i.e. money toward closing costs is nice, but the requirement to use the builder’s preferred lender to get that incentive may not be worth it when you compare rates and costs among other lenders).
  • You’ll have someone who knows the right questions to ask, regarding new home construction (i.e. Is the deposit held in escrow, protecting you in case of bankruptcy by the builder, and how much time is allowed for the builder to complete the construction of the home?)
  • You’ll have help choosing a LOT based on things you might not think of (anticipated traffic patterns, wetlands, ingress/egress, property grading (walk up vs. walk out basement), privacy, and view. Your Realtor can help you keep on top of when new lots are being released, if you have your eye on a particular lot.


  • You’ll benefit from an agent’s experience knowing which options have the best long-term ROI (return on your investment). For example, should you put your money towards adding another bathroom, adding a bump-out to increase square footage, or finishing your basement?
  • You’ll have an unbiased “second opinion” (if you want it!) when choosing design elements and upgrades (i.e. a real estate agent knows what choices are popular and will likely appeal to a future buyer of your home).
  • You’ll have a resource who can put you in touch with multiple competitive lenders to get a mortgage with the best terms.
  • You’ll get recommendations for good inspectors for the pre-drywall and final walk-throughs — and have your agent along at this critical meetings.

Would you like us to scour new properties for you, based on your location, size, and style preferences? Feel free to email us at [email protected]!

As if moving isn’t already hard enough, adding your children into the mix can present a whole new challenge. Kids are resilient, but major changes like big moves can be difficult to work through if children aren’t prepared. Depending on their age, your children may be leaving behind a school, friends, and activities that they’ve grown to love. Instead of throwing them in the deep end, consider helping them get their moving feet wet with these steps. 

1. Talk to your children about your move as soon as it becomes a possibility.

Once you’ve decided to move, the first thing you should do is have an open discussion with your children. If you wait until it is time to pack, they may feel like they’ve had a bombshell dropped on them. If you give them a chance to voice their feelings and work through them, you’ll deal with a little less chaos when it is time to move. Consider the best way to tell your children, taking into account how each child best receives information. Be open, honest, and available to answer their questions.

2. Find ways to involve your children in your new neighborhood.

Instead of leaving the kids at home while you are closing on a property or even just touring potential homes, bring them along. Find activities in the area that your children will enjoy, whether it be a park nearby or local libraries, pools, or playgrounds. Helping them feel familiar with their new home will take a weight off of their shoulders and reduce the fear of being the ‘new kid’ when they move. Once you are moved in, consider hosting a game night or play date for your neighbors with children so that your kids have an opportunity to make friends quickly.

3. Reach out and get local recommendations ahead of time.

This will help both you and your children have a little more peace of mind when it comes to making a big move. Before the move, find local parent groups (sites like Facebook are full of these) and seek out recommendations for daycares and schools that meet the criteria you are looking for. The first thing most people do when trying something new out is to check for reviews, and these groups will allow you to do just that. Create a short list of places you think will fit your lifestyle, and then conduct as much research as you need to make a decision when you arrive in your new home. This will reduce the time your children will spend in limbo when you move.

Moving can be a difficult time, but preparing your children will help make the process as smooth as possible and help to lessen the stress that comes with a big move.

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!

Whether this is your first time moving or your 10th, there are always new tips and tricks to making your move a little more smooth each time. While we are so concentrated on getting everything packed in a timely manner, we often forget about the little steps we can take to save ourselves time, money, and even a little bit of sanity. Here are 8 tips to make your move, and your life, a little easier.

1. Wrap your breakables in clean clothing

Instead of spending extra money on bubble wrap, use clothing that you will need to pack anyway. You’ll save space and it is the most eco-friendly option!

2. Be specific with your labels

Instead of just writing what room the box will go in, make a brief list of the items in each box on the outside. This way, you will know exactly where every box should go – and so will anyone helping you move in!

3. Prep the bathroom and kitchen

If you have the time and are able to enter the house before your big move, take the time to prep your bathroom and kitchen. Fill the fridge and bring towels and a shower curtain for the bathroom. This way, you won’t be scrambling after you move in and desperately want a shower, and you won’t waste money on take-out for the first few days in your new home.

4. Get cotton pads/balls for your makeup

If you’ve ever dealt with the heartache of opening a shattered powder cosmetic item, this tip is for you. Placing a cotton ball/pad helps to prevent your favorite blush or bronzer from covering the entire inside of your packed bathroom box and everything inside of it! 

5. Add an extra layer of protection to your toiletries

It is never fun to open a box and find everything covered in lotion or shampoo. Take off the lids of all of your toiletries and cover any openings with saran wrap and then replace the lid. This will provide a nice seal to prevent any spills.

6. Use Press’n Seal outside of the kitchen

Instead of having to box up your dresser drawers or your jewelry display, keep your Press’n Seal unpacked. Place sheets above your clothing drawers or wrap it around your jewelry display to keep your items in place – and save time packing and unpacking them.

7. Keep a box of small sandwich bags by your side while packing

When you need to take something apart, there may be screws or nails or clips left once everything is disassembled. Use small bags that are easily labelled to place those items so they won’t get lost and you will know exactly where they are when it is time to put everything back together!

8. Take photos of everything you need to take apart

Whether it is the way wires go into your television, or the way a certain piece of furniture connects, taking photos as you go will make reassembly that much easier. Who wants to helplessly fumble with wires after they’ve spent all day unpacking? Save your time and sanity and take the photos!