Best Way To Evaluate a Property

When you are making one of the biggest purchases of your life, you need to know how to properly evaluate the home. 


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When buying a home, it's important to know the steps in determining the value of a property.  There are several "big ticket" items that should be evaluated to help you decide your offer. These include the condition of the roof, the age of the HVAC, water heater, well & septic systems, chimney and overall maintenance of a property. 


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The website, Building Intelligence Center is a handy website. Take a picture of the serial number on the HVAC and quickly look up the age of the system. This site also has a lookup for the age of water heaters and for recalled units. This is the way to go if the home is being sold "as-is" and/or the sellers are not providing information regarding the major systems in the home.

  • Lot and location-This is the very first step in evaluating a property. Is the house on a busy, double yellow lined street? Is the lot desirable? Since you cannot change the lot and location of a property, this needs to be the very first thing you consider when buying a home. The double yellow lined street means the road carries a lot of traffic. If you are at all sensitive to noise and traffic volume, a house on a busy road may not be a good choice for you! 

  • Messy neighbors-This is step two in evaluating a property. Sure, neighbors may move but if you're buying a house, make sure the next door neighbors and people living across the street maintain their properties up to your standards. If they don't, and sadly, I know this firsthand, it really impacts your life. If you buy into a neighborhood with an HOA, then your neighbors have to agree to a level of upkeep with their yard and homes. If you are not buying into an HOA, you are on your own and this could mean living next door to a yard full of gazing balls and quirky lawn ornaments (sigh....welcome to my world)

  • Roof & exterior of the home- You and your buyer agent are not home inspectors but you should be able to determine if a roof is really old. Look for missing shingles, waves in the roof and/or curling shingles. Is there moss growing on the roof? Are the gutters clear or packed with sticks & leaves? Again, you are not expected to do the work of a home inspector but before you make an offer on a house, have a general idea of the age of the roof. When evaluating the exterior of a house, look for cracks, bulges in bricks and any signs of moisture. Where there is a crack, there is an opportunity for water to get in so you'll want to make sure that cracks are sealed and the foundation is straight. Also, check for low areas in the yard where water may pool. As a general rule, dirt should be higher next to the house and sloped in such a way as to direct water away from the foundation. 

  • HVAC, water heater & appliances - How old are all the systems in the house? If the seller isn't providing this information in the disclosures, take pictures of serial numbers and look them up. If there are new appliances and systems, be sure to get the paperwork from the seller so you can take advantage of the warranty. 

  • Porches & Decks- I'm fortunate to have learned so much from excellent home inspectorsin the Washington DC area! I've taken videos of some of our home inspections and learned it's important to ask lots of questions! One inspector says deck posts should be built on cement foundations, not in the dirt. They should be securely fastened to the house to avoid deck failure. A qualified licensed home inspector will provide the best evaluation of the condition of a deck. Porches should be properly sealed. 

  • Chimney evaluation - Take a good look at the condition of the chimney cap and screen. If you can see cracks, these will need to be filled by a licensed contractor. You may also consider having a chimney evaluated by a chimney sweep company. Most of the companies will recommend lining the chimney and should provide a video of the inside of the chimney. 

  • Choose to find your home with a true buyers agent - You need an advocate on your sideas you navigate the home buying process. Consider all your options so you can move confidently ahead as you find your home!



Ramblers & Ranchers Home Styles for Families

Ahh-the beauty of the rambler!

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Rambler style homes dot the suburban landscape in the Greater Washington DC area.  According to Webster’s dictionary, Rambler means gadabout, roamer, wanderer and one who likes to ramble; a perfect description for a home style that flows from room to room.   

Because of the rectangular and square shapes of the Rambler style home, it’s easy to alter the original footprint. Bumping out the back of a rambler or adding a second floor are both common and attractive ways to have the rambler grow with your family. The Ramblers in my Silver Spring neighborhood have walk out basements. With two levels, this Rambler design allows natural light into the lower level of the home so it doesn’t feel like you are in a basement. 

The Ramblers built after WWII are small; usually three bedrooms and one bathroom. In the 60’s and 70’s, builders showed creativity building walk out basements, double garages and large screened porches. Since the footprint of the Rambler is so simple, the options to expand seem endless. 

Is the Rambler home style the right choice for you?

This is one of many questions to consider as you search for a home. Make a list of what you want in your new home. Include things like;

 Must have a working fireplace, the backyard has to be private, I have to have a gas range (this could be added later), a master bathroom is essential, must have a workshop and lots of natural light.

You get the idea. Some home buyers don’t know what they want until they get out and house hunt-that’s fine too. If you are house hunting with a significant other, talk about what you expect to have in your new home. Ramblers are great, I live in one but you may find split levels, colonials or another home design works best for you. In the Greater Washington D.C. area, many of the original home styles have large additions that alter the footprint dramatically.

5 Things to Know When Buying a Home from the Owner

We recently worked with a buyer who purchased a house for sale by owner. The owner was actually a flipper who had hired a listing brokerage to put the property into the Multiple Listing Service. The owner was the point of contact and handled all the negotiations. 

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Top 5 things to know to protect your best interest when buying a FSBO

  1. THE SELLER DOESN'T KNOW WHAT SHE DOESN'T KNOW - Every jurisdiction has addendum and requirements which become part of the contract. Several of these addendum are provided by the seller. For example, in Montgomery County Maryland, it's mandatory for the seller to perform a radon test and provide the results to the buyer. The seller is not required to pay for remediation but the test has to be done. If the FISBO hasn't done their homework, they could miss important documents & requirements which are in place to protect the buyer. A good buyer's agent will make sure all required documents are included in the contract.

  2. CONTINGENCIES IN THE CONTRACT ARE THERE TO PROTECT THE BUYER - If you are buying a for sale by owner house, be sure your buyer's agent includes inspection, financing and appraisal contingencies. The home inspection should include the right to negotiate and the right to walk away from the deal. There will be a time period written into the contract that allows the buyer to hire a home inspector and complete the inspection. The inspector writes a detailed report and based on this information, the buyer decides to negotiate repairs and credits or walk away from the deal. The financing contingency is in place to protect the buyer should they not be able to purchase the property through no fault of their own. And if the appraiser determines that the value of the property is less than what the buyer is offering, the appraisal contingency gives the buyer the right to negotiate the price and get out of the deal if they can't come to an agreement with the seller. 

  3. THE SELLER IS NOT BOUND BY A CODE OF ETHICS - Real estate agents are supposed to follow the rules and the code of ethics. This includes not misleading buyers, responding as quickly as possible to offers & counter offers and disclosure of pertinent facts and latent defects about the property. If real estate agents break any of the rules they could be fined and/or lose their license. A seller has not agreed to a code of ethics or standard of practice. This leaves room for dishonest people to not disclose all the important details of a property. 

  4. SELLER MAY OVERVALUE THEIR PROPERTY - It's not uncommon for a homeowner to overvalue their property. I remember a conversation I had with a FISBO who listed the cost of the back deck and bathroom renovations he had done 10 years prior. He was expecting to be compensated for the expense! Review the comparables provided by your buyer agent.  These will show what similar houses sold for over the past 6 months to a year. Look closely at the condition of the other houses. Using this information, you can determine what you want to offer for the house. Keep in mind that you may also be negotiating repairs and/or credit for items found during the home inspection.

  5. GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING - Did the seller say they would take the junk out of the backyard? Get it in writing! Everything you have either verbally or via email agreed on, write up an addendum that spells it out and is signed by both parties. If it's not in writing, it's not enforceable. 

Why You Need a Pre-Drywall Inspection

Buying a brand new home?

Consider having a pre-drywall home inspection 

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At this stage of the home building process, the Builder or Site Manager walks through the home with the homeowners. The framing, heating and air ducts, electrical wiring, plumbing and possibly tubs and shower pans will be in place. 


Before the drywall is installed, it's easier to make changes to the electrical outlets, lighting, plumbing and/or framing.

 What To Look For in a Pre Drywall Walk Through

  • Take pictures of electrical wiring, plumbing, and air ducts. Our home buyers plan to hang large flat screens on the wall in several rooms. They asked the builder to add extra support to the framing. We saw the extra wood/support and our buyers checked that off their to-do list!

  • Check placement for electrical boxes in each room. Before the pre-drywall walkthrough, the Builder and home buyer meet for a design meeting.  This is when you decide the location of electrical outlets, ceiling fan wiring and cable lines for your home. During the walkthrough, make sure these items are in the proper location. Now is the time to make changes to things that will soon be covered by walls and ceilings.

  • Be sure the air registers are placed properly in each room. All the rooms in the house should have registers. The ductwork connecting the registers shouldn't be dented or blocked in any way.

  • Your washing machine should have a washing pan.  If the pan is not in place, make sure it's on the Builder's checklist. The pan catches overflows if the washing machine leaks or overflows.

  • Are the doors, windows and garage doors the style & design you've chosen?  During our pre-drywall walkthrough, we noted that several doors still needed to be hung. We went to the garage where the crew had stored the doors and made sure they matched.

  • Ask the Builder to show you the location of the clean outs for the plumbing. Sometime in the future, you, or a plumber, will need to access the cleanout. Take notes during the walkthrough so you remember where clean outs are located. In the picture above, you can see all the plumbing for the master bathroom shower. Having pictures of what's behind the walls will come in handy if/when there is a leak or other issue.

Finally, we recommend hiring a licensed independent home inspector.

This will be an additional cost, but it's well worth the expense. Home inspectors evaluate the foundation, floor, walls, framing, electrical, plumbing, roof structure, windows, doors and rough-in components. The home inspector will answer all your questions and provide a detailed report. Consider having a radon inspection. Radon is an odorless colorless naturally occurring gas which is the product of decaying radium. In Montgomery County Md, the sellers are required to do a radon test and provide the results to the home buyer. Radon exposure has been linked to lung cancer. So again, consider having a licensed home inspector test your new home for radon.

 

This inspection would be in addition to, not instead of, the Builder's walkthrough and home inspection.  

Here are more sources for you if you are buying new construction. 

American Society of Home Inspectors

National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents

National Association of Home Builders

Residential Performance Construction Guidelines

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