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Real Estate Perspectives 2015: Professionals Share Advice and Market Insight

Aug 17, 2015 02:14PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Professional personalities within real estate, lending, architecture, design, and other home industries share advice and market insight

Whether you’re on the hunt to purchase a property, considering selling your own, or staying put for now, keeping your finger on the pulse of the local real estate market is both worthwhile and fun. But don’t just take our word for it; take cue from many local real estate and home professionals who took their time to answer our questions about market variables and much more. What you’ll read could be as much fun as house hunting itself, as many of our contributors offering varying perspectives based on what they are actually seeing occur in our hometowns. The overall result is a well-rounded capsule of today’s market on both Western and Eastern Shores.

Real Estate Selling/Buying


What is your opinion of today’s real estate market within your county/region of operation?

Chuck Mangold, Sr., owner of Benson and Mangold Real Estate: “This is the best market Talbot County has seen in 10 years. This is due to low interest rates and delayed household formulations. The number of first-time buyers has increased. Second homes are back in vogue. People are more confident in the economy and their jobs. Prices are fantastic for the buyers for what they are getting.”

Brad Kappel of Charlie Buckley’s Mr. Waterfront Team of Long & Foster Real Estate: “Over the past three years we have seen steady growth. This year started out very slow, which we attribute to the extremely harsh winter that we experienced. There seems to be strong demand for waterfront homes in the Annapolis area and there are lots of decent, well-priced properties for sale currently. Mortgage interest rates are still at record lows and we anticipate this year will exceed last year’s sales.”

Jonathan T. Ginn of Long & Foster Real Estate: “The market is the market. Buyers today want to see something significant offering true value for their investment. We are now in a rising period of the market in the luxury home area and believe this will continue for some period of years—all economic and world markets point in this direction.”

Brent Allen of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage: “The market is in a ‘healthy recovery’ with jobs up in May, and mortgage rates favorable for buyers. In most all cases we are far from seeing the peak sales prices in the past, but again this is a healthy recovery. Most buyers that have become familiar with the market would likely say that good inventory is low. New properties that hit the market, which are priced right and show well, sell quick.

Within Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Church Circle office, at this time last year 57 percent of our office listings were being shown, and right now we are at 77 percent therefore showing a tangible increase in buyer momentum. Our closed units for developed property year-to-date is 162, up 9 percent, with a closed volume in May up 16 percent, and our closed average price is up 6 percent year to date. Rates will at some point have to increase, so it is expected to see sales strengthen as buyers will not want to miss out on the low rates that are currently available.”

When is the best time of the year to place a property on market? To purchase a property?

Creig Northrop, president & CEO of the Creig Northrop Team of Long & Foster Real Estate: “I truly believe anytime is a good time. Traditionally, Spring and Fall are the busiest times in the real estate industry, but there is sound rationale for going on the market or looking for a new home any time of the year. There is generally smaller inventory in the winter and that can work to a seller’s advantage. Also, buyers looking in the late fall and winter months tend to be very serious buyers with a purpose—be it a job transfer or an addition to their family. There’s a reason they are looking.

“When it comes to buying a home in what is typically considered real estate’s slower season, there can be advantages. There are fewer buyers to compete with and lower inventory doesn’t necessarily matter—it only takes one house that you love, and amazing properties can come on the market at any time of the year. As an agent, my goal is to help you find the right one.”

Charlie Buckley, owner of the Mr. Waterfront Team of Long & Foster Real Estate: “The best time of the year to begin marketing a waterfront property is in March or April. Generally, May and June are two of the biggest sale months as waterfront buyers want to start enjoying the waterfront lifestyle while the weather is nice! From a negotiating standpoint, buyers may get a ‘better deal’ when making an offer in the winter months.” 

What three actions can home sellers take to ensure the highest sales price of their property?

Reid Buckley of Charlie Buckley’s Mr. Waterfront Team of Long and Foster Real Estate: “We offer staging help to our clients because de-cluttering is one of the biggest steps any home seller can take to achieve a successful sale; the better your home shows vis-à-vis the competition, the more likely you are to get prospects to tour your home and ultimately make an offer. The other critical factor is pricing: the closer the list price is to the fair market value, the more likely the sale will be for the highest price possible.”

Kappel: “One: hire an agent that specializes in their specific type of property. You wouldn’t hire a Ford dealer to sell your Ferrari, so when you sell a waterfront home you should also hire a trained expert. Two: price your home in line with the other recent sold comparables. The first 60 days is the critical period to market your home and if you price it right you will typically get the highest and best offer versus listing it too high and then chasing the market with price reductions. Three: list your home in the spring and sell during the height of the season when there is the most demand.”

Northrop: “The first is staging your home. Staged homes sell faster and for more money than those that are not staged. It’s a fact. That’s one reason we offer complimentary staging as part of our listing service. Great HD photography is crucial when it comes to marketing your home. It’s usually what potential buyers see first and you only get one opportunity for a great first impression. Sell the lifestyle that your home provides. Highlight the location and all that comes with living there. Whether it’s close to the water, has amazing restaurants nearby or fantastic community amenities. The lifestyle that your home provides can be priceless.”

Should a home buyer make a first offer on a property below asking price and if so, by how much?

David Orso, owner of the David Orso Group of Century 21 New Millennium: “It isn’t that black and white. When making an offer on a property, several factors should be taken into account: the market value of the home, the market position of the home compared to other listings, and the condition of the home. The offer should reflect those factors, should be fair and not insult the seller. A professional real estate agent will be able to counsel the buyer on what a fair offer would look like for that home and market.”

What is the most overlooked action/item home buyers make when negotiating a purchase?

Travis Gray of Coldwell Banker: “Most buyers don’t realize that if they request a copy of the seller’s title insurance policy they can receive a significant discount when they purchase their new one. This could save a buyer hundreds of dollars at settlement.”

Ginn: “That Central Bankers plan to buy two trillion worth of bonds over the next 12 months. The whisper of the Fed raising rates…when the day of reckoning arrives, land and other hard assets will weather the storm, as they have done in other very difficult times.”

Kappel: “Many buyers these days are using the Zillow Zestimate to determine what they think a property is worth. The Zestimate is a computer algorithm and it does not take into account many of the key details that drive the true market value. The best method for deciding the value of a property is to look at the sold comparables and also the homes that are currently for sale and not selling.”

What is the most recommended renovation/upgrade to a property a homeowner should make prior to placing the home on the market?

Reid Buckley: “Potential sellers should walk through and make sure there is no obvious deferred maintenance, such as peeling paint on windows. First impressions count! It may not be worth spending money for a new kitchen or master bathroom when the next owner has different taste—just make sure what you have looks the best that it can.”

Orso: “With 92 percent of buyers using the Internet for their home search, according to the National Association of REALTORS, homes are instantly rejected or ‘favorited’ when buyers view the photos, price, and key features. The first impression of the home is typically the front of the home so investing a little time and money into the home’s curb appeal is a good idea—clean up the yard, plant flowers, and paint the front door. Homeowners should also ask their real estate agent to connect them with a professional stager who can provide recommendations on decluttering, painting, lighting, and furniture arrangements to highlight the best features of the home.”

Gray: “We know everyone loves a newly remodeled kitchen or bathroom but even they can lose appeal if the roof is leaking or there’s water in the basement. Sellers cannot neglect vital home maintenance when they are planning on putting their home on the market.”

What renovations/upgrades recoup upwards of 100% of their cost, or make more on a sale?

Charlie Buckley: “For waterfront properties, the expense that guarantees a 100 percent recoup is to build a pier if the property has riparian rights and does not currently have a pier, or to replace the pier if it is in total disrepair.”

What are homeowners looking for in a site?

Alicia R. Gannon of Exit Latham Realty: “Location. Something in an acceptable proximity to schools, shopping, etc. The difference from these things may vary when considering town versus county. Some may want an isolated area for peace and quiet, hunting, or waterfront. Of course it varies from client to client.”
 

What are some of the most desired amenities home buyers are seeking? 

DeeDee McCracken of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage: “Kitchens remain hugely important to homebuyers. Think updated appliances, fixtures, cabinets, and countertops in a spacious setting. Waterfront is also a huge attraction and is what drives so many people to the Eastern Short to start!”

How long does the developer stay involved at site?

Gannon: “Usually there is some involvement if the developer still has lots or houses to sell. After sellout, a Homeowners Association is most likely to be taking care of issues regarding the development.”

Home Finance/Lending


What advice would you give home buyers/sellers to ensure the smoothest settlement possible?

Trey Rider of First Home Mortgage: “Communication is key. Responsiveness between you, your Realtor, and your lender is fundamental to ensure the smoothest settlement. It starts by using lending services local to your home purchase, given their relationship to your Realtors, appraisers, and settlement service providers. Stay in touch, stay local, and you’ll be in great hands.”

What myths can you dispel about today’s lending environment?

Rider: “Down payment requirements are much more borrower friendly than portrayed. On the Eastern Shore, we have loan programs that support 100 percent financing. Mortgage insurance is much more consumer friendly today, too. Your credit history doesn’t have to be perfect. Sure, we’ve tightened, but there is still an encouraging environment to achieve financing for your next home purchase.”

How would you describe the current state of the mortgage industry?

Rider: “Most likely more friendly than you hear. We do have to document a loan file more than in the past, but the landscape provides for so many options today. We as an industry have adapted to regulatory changes, and most have come to better serve and protect the homebuyer. The past tightening of credit within our industry has eased of late and we anticipate this trend to continue. There is certainly an appetite to lend.”

Interior Design/Staging/Decor


What are some general rules of thumb for home sellers preparing a property’s interior for sale?

Spencer Stovall, vice president of Higgins & Spencer: “Open up spaces by editing furniture, artwork, accessories, and photos; ‘Think about details’: fresh flowers, air fresheners or potpourri, open blinds and draperies, turn on lights, and be sure that all bulbs are working; all spaces, including closets and garages, should be neat and tidy; be observant of spaces not seen at ground level, e.g. balconies looking down on areas and are the tops of cabinets and bookcases clean?; and have carpets and furniture cleaned.”

Are there any design elements, arrangements, or floor plans that lend well to a home showing/open house/sellers?

Stovall: “Open up walkways by removing or re-arranging furniture; divide a large room into smaller conversational areas; try angling or floating the furniture instead of lining up against the walls; consider consulting with a professional designer for help staging your home; update a kitchen with new appliances or counter-tops; and how about changing cabinet hardware?”

What color considerations (paint, décor, etc.) should a homeowner choose when preparing a property for sale?

Stovall: “Paint is the least expensive design tool. Fresh paint always makes a house look new. Neutral colors make rooms look larger but neutral doesn’t always mean white. Consider creamy beige, a soft gray, or perhaps a pale sage green. Crisp white woodwork brings it all together and adds the finishing touch. Use brighter colors in removable accents such as flowers, pillows, a small area rug, accessories, or maybe a foot stool. A new pair of lamps might just be the right place to bring in an accent color.”

Architecture/Construction/Remodeling


What are the most sought after home additions and/or remodels that homeowners make in today’s market?

Catherine Purple Cherry, owner of Purple Cherry Architects: “We see homeowners are taking their homes out of the mid-twentieth century and doing whole house renovations to transform the home from compartmentalized spaces to a more open concept program that allows for interactive entertainment. The primary home additions that we see our clients doing include kitchen expansions, screened porches, and first floor master suites to accommodate either aging in place or extended family.”

Andy Apter, owner Apter Remodeling/Craftsman: “Kitchen and baths are number one. Adding master bedrooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms for growing families rank second. Whole house remodels are popular as well.”

Richard Stout of Friel Lumber Company: “Kitchen and bath remodel/additions, followed by sunrooms and screen porches.”

If a home buyer intends to make renovations/additions to a property they want to purchase, what special considerations must they address prior to doing so?

Cherry: “Number one: a homeowner must understand if the property has a private septic system or is served by public sewer. If a private septic system, the homeowner must understand if the current septic system has the capacity to support the proposed additions or can be expanded.

“Number two: for any property within 1000 feet of mean high water for the Chesapeake Bay and any contributing tributaries, it is important to assess the critical area implications of the property including lot coverage, buffers, and slopes. We recommend that homeowners consult with an architect prior to purchasing a critical area property.

“Two additional components that should be considered are any building restriction zoning setbacks and the existing structural integrity of the home.”

Apter: “Length of time they plan on living there. Value of comparable properties and value of property after improvements.”

Stout: “Check with planning and zoning. There are several areas where adding square footage is limited for various reasons. Queen Anne’s County limits living space additions to 500 square feet in areas with private septic systems. Other restrictions can be imposed by property lines, water frontage, and impervious cover limits. Certain projects to an existing home can require that the remaining portion of the home be brought up to code. This can be problematic and costly on older homes.”

What protections can homeowners take when contracting work on their property to ensure a fairly priced, timely, and quality project?

Stout: “Check references for all contractors. It is unlikely a contractor will give you a bad reference for his work. Ask for completion dates and verify the references are current. It is best to supply allowances for items yet to be selected. The most common are cabinetry, counter tops, electrical fixtures, bath fixtures, and floor coverings. Supplying this to the contractors bidding your job ensures everyone is quoting apples to apples. If you are not supplying allowances, at least verify they are adequate to cover the items you will be using before choosing your contractor.”

Kitchen/Bath/Plumbing


What appliance trends/amenities are homeowners currently seeking with regards to functionality and ease of use?

Tony Patane, owner Applianceland: “Appliances do so much more today. I think that the trends are back to basics when it comes to kitchen appliances. They [customers] want the refrigerator to get cold; the oven or range to get hot; laundry to clean; dishwashers to clean; and hoods to blow out smoke and odors. With that said, there are different styles. I believe style trends are more the consideration in an appliance purchase today. But the buyers’ perspective is: I want it to last…which they are not lasting like mom and dads did…and I want the best deal.”

What aesthetic trends dominate the appliance market?

Patane: “One word: stainless steel…oops that’s two words. We are selling 93 percent stainless packages. White and black are still available as appliance colors and some manufacturers are playing around with other colors of stainless steel like slate. The next big thing the number one manufacturer of appliances is coming out with is black stainless. This should be a new hot color!”

When upgrading kitchen and bath appliances, what special considerations with regards to a home’s infrastructure should homeowners be aware of?

Scott Waldhauser of Kenwood Kitchens: “If you are remodeling your kitchen by an industry expert, they will know and take care of any issues with your home. If you are trying to replace your appliances on your own, at least consider using a licensed electrician. It is very important to make sure you have the proper amperage or current that is specified with the new appliance. Most appliances will also require that each appliance is on its own dedicated circuit in your electrical panel to not void your warranty.

“When remodeling bathrooms—additional showerheads, body sprays, and rain showers require more water and hot water to get the experience you are looking for. Your existing half-inch water lines may need to be increased to three quarter-inch. In addition, your hot water tank may not be able to keep up with the volume of water, leaving you in the cold before you can even rinse the soap off. There are a few solutions to this problem—one of which is a point of use water heater dedicated for just this shower.”

Is it better to bundle appliance packages when upgrading, or purchase separately?

Patane: “It is so much better to bundle appliances because manufacturers want to sell more, so they post rebates to incentivize you to buy more. For example Kitchenaid will give you $0 for one item, but all the way up to $1000 off in rebates if you purchase up to five pieces…that’s a free dishwasher and a good meal out.”

Landscaping/Hardscaping/Outdoor


What landscaping projects are best for “curb appeal” when selling a home?

Rachel Baumgarten, owner Homestead Gardens: “An overgrown yard detracts from a home. Prune plants, mow the lawn, sweep the steps, and walkway. A few containers with plants can give your home a complete look. Try to bring the focus to the front door, either with a new walkway or new plantings in scale with the size of the home and front yard. A curving walkway can sometimes offer a more friendly approach to the front of your home, and a new planting can help tie your home into the landscape and soften all of the hard surfaces the house, walkway, driveway, and street offer.”

Rick Heiberger, president of Great Scapes by ESI: “Outdoor patios and kitchens create a complete, new living space outside and we have seen many people selling their homes install the patios, walkways, and kitchens.”

What is the number one type of project you perform (most installations)?

Hal Quayle, owner of Quayle & Company Design/Build: “Entertaining areas. It is no longer just about wanting to add just a deck, a patio, or landscaping. Homeowners are looking more at creating rooms outside with different areas for living and entertaining. They are seeing the bigger picture on how the outside should be treated just like an extension of your house; livable outdoor room or rooms. We have seen an uptick in outdoor kitchens and clients tell us that, just like the kitchen ends up being a congregational area of the home, so does an outdoor kitchen area. Danver’s line of stainless steel outdoor kitchen cabinets truly makes the new outdoor kitchen fully functional and aesthetically pleasing.”

Baumgarten: “Planting. Though we are a full service landscape company, we plant trees and shrubs year round. Whether it is a complex design, foundation planting, or simply a privacy screen, plants can enhance any property.”

Heiberger: “Typically patios, kitchens, pergolas, and fire pits.”

What materials are most popularly used right now in projects?

Baumgarten: “Natural stone never ages and is timeless, and can blend in with various existing materials a property may have.”

Quayle: “We have all seen trends with man-made products out on the market. We still see our clients choosing natural materials which are timeless. They outlast fads and give an organic quality to any project. Carder rock for stone walls, flagstone for patios, and Ipe for decks. Even the stainless steel cable rails over other plastic composite rails give a timeless and higher end look to a project.”

Heiberger: “Pavers, travertine, and natural stone.”

We hear the terms “Eco-scaping” or “Bay-scaping” often; what does this mean and can my (any) property incorporate it?

Baumgarten: “BayScaping is all about conservation landscaping, and means promoting an environmentally friendly landscape that can help to preserve and protect the waterways and local environment that surround our region. Bay-scapes utilize native plants which can help to provide a habitat for local species and reduce the need for chemical applications of pesticides and herbicides. They also have adapted to local conditions which means they require less watering. A native planting also helps to reduce erosion and storm water runoff, which will ultimately help to improve water quality. You can also incorporate practices of bay-scaping by using rain barrels on your gutters to catch rainwater which can be used to water your garden, placing a birdbath or fountain in your garden to provide a water source for birds, bees, and butterflies, and planting a rain garden to capture rainwater runoff from impervious surfaces.”

Painting


When working with homeowners or realtors preparing to sell a property, what improvements do you typically recommend?

Rob Bontempo, owner Annapolis Painting Services: “We do quite a bit of work for realtors listing homes for sellers and I have a checklist of “must do” items that every seller should consider:

  • Water stains on ceilings: most stains are from old leaks that have been repaired but they will send up a red flag during home inspections. Kilz primer and a complete coat of paint—not just touch up—is the best solution. Repair all nail pops in drywall while you are at it.
  • Mold or mildew in basements: bleach small traces of mold and mildew and apply Drylock to basement walls will alleviate the major concern of having a wet basement. Extreme cases of mold should be treated by a licensed mold remeditator, as improper treatment could contaminate the whole house.
  • Stress cracks in drywall or foundation walls. Again these are generally common settlement cracks but are also potential red flags for home inspectors.
  • Paint colors: always neutralize bold colors. Shell white or Linen white are the two most common colors used to neutralize loud colors. Flat paint is preferred over eggshell or semigloss when selling and it has a better appearance, although not as washable in the long term.
  • Wallpaper: get rid of it. • Front door: first impressions are everything, give it a fresh look.
  • Powerwashing: wash all exterior surfaces to remove dirt, mildew, and algae. A typical house can be done for under $500 and makes a big difference.
  • Rotted wood and peeling paint: make sure all exterior surfaces are intact and protected. A house that looks neglected won’t get the offer that a pristine house will receive.”

Pool & Spa Design/Service


How has the pool installation industry changed in the past 20 years with regards to materials and methods?

Celeste Pyper, pool sales and designer for Aqua Pools & Spas: “Pools have become a much more a central part of the back yard. Sunledge areas, spas, and seating benches within the pool create a ‘meeting’ place for family and guests. Water features such as bubblers, waterfalls, fire/water bowls, infinity edges, and deck jets are just some of the features offered to create moving water and sound. Interior finishes such as Pebble Sheen, Pebble Fina, and Bead Crete are upgrades to the standard white plaster. Additionally, upgraded filter systems with energy efficient equipment, computerized automation, automatic pool cleaners, automatic covers, and automatic fills make for ease of care for the homeowner.”

What is the typical length of time for a project, from concept to completion?

Pyper: “Each county varies for the time to get a permit: 2–5 weeks. Once in hand, the pool construction takes 4–8 weeks depending on the size and type of patio/deck, which surrounds the pool.”

When is the best time of the year to begin a pool installation?

Pyper: “Pools can be built all year long...though weather will dictate different stages of the process. Many customers will choose to begin in the fall and get the pool excavated, shot in gunite, and tile and coping installed—at that point it will sit until early spring when the interior finish and water is added for completion. If the project begins in early March and thereafter, the pool will continue through the building cycle as the temperatures are suitable for all stages of the construction.”

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Be sure to check out our Leading Real Estate Professionals of 2015 here