The Washington Post

Real Estate Live

Apr 16, 2010

Post Real Estate columnist Elizabeth Razzi discusses the local housing market -- from condos and investment properties to contracts and mortgages on Friday, April 16, at 1 p.m. ET. She is joined by Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing, who can talk about lead paint safety issues. For more information on this topic, read the Post's story: Lead paint gets the big brushoff.

Note: We are having some difficulties with our autorefresh. If your discussion is not starting or you are not seeing new questions and answers automatically, please refresh the page.

Hi Everyone,

Producer Sarah here. Sorry for the delay. We're having some technical difficulties site-wide with the chat program, but I think we should be back in business now.

Hi everyone, please send me your questions. If I don't get to your question or don't have an answer, we will post information on our website after this online chat.  This rule is a big deal. About 38 million homes have lead-based paint that can be disturbed during renovation, painting and repair projects. This rule will protect children from the irreversible damage of lead exposure.

Hi, everyone! Welcome back. Today we have a guest joining the chat, Rebecca Morley, executive firector of the National Center for Healthy Housing. They're headquartered in Columbia, Md., and are a nonprofit education/advocacy group that promotes "healthy, green, safe homes," to quote their Web site. They also offer contractor training on the new lead-paint rules that go into effect on Thursday. They require contractors working on most repairs and improvements made to homes built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned, to be certified in ways to minimize the spread of lead chips and dust.  Rebecca has called the new rule the "most important federal lead regulation" in a decade. Let's get started.

My apologies to all the chatters! We're having computer issues. (I blame volcanic ash because, why not?) Anyway, Rebecca Morley has agreed to stick around until 2:30 to continue the chat. Thanks for your patience.

Will the homes values in Eckington benefit (increase) from the adjacent NOMA development?

Well, that's the usual expectation from redevelopment. The question is when surrounding values might increase--and that's always tough to guess. And it's even tougher now that NOMA's redevelopment has been slowed down by the recession.

Have you heard if the home buying tax credit will be extended?

The Magic 8 Ball says "unlikely." I haven't seen any serious signs of an extension.

Recently, my fiance and I wanted to submit and offer for a town home in Centreville, Va. The comparable prices from the sold homes around the area were about thirty thousand dollars lower than the listing price. Well, we decided to offer the listing price since we liked the property so much. Come to find out that the seller does not want the appraisal contingency in the contract. Does that mean that the seller and the seller's agent know that listing price is really high for this property? This actually is happening again with another property we were trying to put an offer in for. I thought this was a buyer's market?

It's hard to believe, but it's not much of a buyer's market now in the Centreville area. I wouldn't buy without an appraisal contingency. That's a serious protection! If it appraises for less than you agree to pay--you're under contract to come up with tens of thousands of  dollars in extra cash--or forfeit your earnest money. Don't be bullied by the sellers.

Does the new RRP rule apply to Mobile Homes built before 1978 painted with annodized aluminum paint in the factory?

Mobile homes (manufactured housing) built before 1978 are included in the definition of "target housing". Although these units may have been constructed largely of pre-finished materials, some surfaces, both interior and exterior, may have been painted with lead-based paint. Therefore,  mobile homes cannot be exempted as a class. Houseboats, recreational vehicles, etc. are not considered "target housing."

Do English basement apartments in D.C. still add value to rowhomes? I'm considering converting my baement into an apartment and wanted a second opinion as to whether its worth the money.

Well that depends a lot on how much work has to be done to make your basement a legitimate, safe rental. First priority is to be sure there are (or will be) safe exits that comply with the fire code. Get some good, hard estimates of how much money you have to put in to make it a good rental. And then invite some local real estate agents in to give you an opinion about marketability with an English basement. And, of course, research how much it costs to rent such a place in your neighborhood. Read Harvey Jacobs' House Lawyer column in this week's issue carefully. He talks about the licensing rules for landlords. Good luck!

Rebecca, I have a question about lead paint. (Unfortunately I have a keen memory of my little brother chewing on a painted handrail back in the 1960s. It probably had lead paint plus a good coating of dust from leaded gasoline exhaust.) What should a homeowner do for little fix-it jobs that don't require a paid contractor? How much precaution should we take?

Hi -- We're moving, and have to be in our new area long before we think our current house will sell. So, our furniture is staying behind to keep the house staged (don't worry! We have nice stuff). When we've had homes on the market in the past, I always made the effort to have fresh flowers around. That won't be possible this time, since we won't live there. So my question (which may be more appropriate for the decorating chat) is: should I use high-quality fake flowers to get the same effect, or just let it go?

Well, based on a new model-home tour I made about a year ago with a professional stager, I'd say go ahead and beautify the place with high-quality silk flowers and plants. You might leave some good-quality potpourri out as well. 

We're still having some tech snafus here, so Rebecca is delayed in answering. We're getting some very good questions about the new lead-paint rules, and the answers will show up eventually--if only in the transcript. Sorry!

We are returning to the DC area after several years away. We hadn't really planned on returning -- we sold our townhouse in MD and bought here, but things change, and we're looking to get back. Instead of buying house immediately and in a rush, though, we thought we might rent a house for a while. Do you know of any good resources for finding rentals that aren't all apartments? The Post classifieds are a shell of what they once were...

Welcome home! If you're looking for a rental house or townhouse, you might consider talking with some of the real estate brokerage companies. In this area a lot of landlords are military or foreign service folk who need a pro to handle leasing while they're away.

Hi. I just wanted to say thanks to you and the other participants who provided input on the FHA predicament my husband and I were in. We went ahead and changed our financing, managing a modest down payment, while getting a home that won't leave us house poor. We had an offer accepted on a lovely home this week and will close in May. I still think FHA is a great program for lots of people, and honestly believe there is an educational gap on what it really means for the home buying process. I am very grateful to the commenters who were honest enough to explain why FHA offers were of concern for them. Without that input my husband and I would still be searching for answers. Thank you!

You're welcome, on behalf of all of us chatters! And congratulations, too.

Hello, I am saving money now to because I'd like to buy rather than rent after moving from my parents house. I just visited Clarendon and would love a townhouse over there. Are there any neighborhoods near there that have townhomes, possibly under 300K? I don't know where to start. Thanks!

Most of the good real estate web sites allow you to fly over neighborhoods and see listings--with prices--pop up on a map. Try,,,, for a start, and see which sites you like. Townhomes under $300k in that area, though, could be a tough search. Good luck.

Hello. What are your thoughts on buying a new home before selling your old one? Our condo building has had some issues related to Fannie Mae guidelines that we are very close to having resolved, but have prevented anyone from selling in over a year. It is a one-bedroom suited for a first time buyer, and I am looking to upgrade to a house. I have found a house that I love, but obviously have no idea when I might be able to sell my condo (and I would not be able to rest). Do you think it's a huge mistake to buy before I've sold my current place?

Honestly, it sounds like you know the answer to this question. Yes, unless you have a stomach made of steel and a big bank account, it would be a bad idea to buy before you sell that condo.

My husband and I are looking for our first home. Over the past month, we've found ourselves with several houses we're interested going under contract the day we see them and beeing outbid more than once when we've put in contracts(and we are not lowballing by any means). I thought it was supposed to be a buyer's market??? Do you think all of this is happening because buyers are trying really hard to meet the tax credit deadline? Will the market calm down after April 30th when people are no longer in a huge rush to buy?

I know! So many people have been complaining of this. We just have to give up on the idea of the Washington area (at least most parts of it) being a buyer's market now. I don't think this is necessarily driven by the tax credit deadline, though that's probably putting some urgency into the market. Rising interest rates are scaring some people into action, too. And by most indicators, the economy does seem to be getting better now. The patient isn't cured, but he's finally able to get out of bed.

Just a reminder, we're going 'till 2:30 today, so don't rush off!

I'm sure you can't suggest this, Elizabeth, but as a landlord who rents a rowhouse on Capitol Hill, I can. Craigslist. It's the only place private homeowners advertise.

Oh, heck, I've used Craiglist to buy and sell all kinds of stuff. And you will find rentals there. But it definitely is not the only place private renters advertise. And--you can find scams anywhere, but SOME free ads on Craigslist have been the scammy type, where someone is trying to rent out something they don't really own. Caveat emptor.

We had a terrible experience leaving our stuff to stage our house after leaving Illinois for Pennsylvania. It took a year for our house to sell (this was back in 2008) and we were without our furniture for almost a year. So think carefully about this before you do it. (We only had eight showings in that time period, so it was hardly worth it.) I know the real estate situation is different in different areas, but think carefully about it.

Thanks for a voice of experience. I wouldn't leave my best stuff, but some appropriate pieces would be good. It's the look that counts; not the quality. And hang some stuff in the closets while you're at it. The pros decorate them with hat boxes and a couple of attractive pieces, just so it looks lived-in.

I would like to know which firms in the D.C. area can test for lead paint. Can you give me their names? I'm having a very hard time finding these companies. Also, what is the best, most reliable way to test for lead paint in your home? Is it using the XRF analyzer or some other technology instead?

You can get your home checked in one of two ways, or both

    • A risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure (such as peeling paint and lead dust). It also tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.
    A paint inspection tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home. It won't tell you whether the paint is a hazard or how you should deal with it.

I recommend getting a combination inspection and risk assessment. Here's a list of DC inspectors.



Can a weatherization, remodeling or housing rehabilitation contractor continue working as usual after April 22nd, 2010 if they have submitted an application but are still waiting for their firm certification from EPA?

As of this writing, a contractor must fully comply with the rule as of April 22nd. We anticipate that EPA will issue enforcement guidance in the next week. In addition to submitting an application for certification, the firm should follow all of the work practices in the regulation and make sure that a certified renovator is assigned to the work.


What are home improvements that people can generally do that will bring back the most return on the money spent? Carpets, flooring, granite counter tops? Thanks!

PAINT! A fresh coat of paint makes so much difference. Clean windows and light fixtures. Updating with inexpensive light fixtures if yours are old, dirty or frumpy. And then flooring, especially an inexpensive wall-to-wall (if that's what you have). Or maybe there are pretty floors underneath the old stuff? Chatters, what do you think?

Sorry -- I posted my earlier question where you can't see it. Basically -- what kinds of cautions should I take on a little DIY job that doesn't require a contractor?

Read the epa/hud lead paint field safety guide:


1) Contain the work area - close it off to other parts of the home using plastic sheeting and tape. Put the sheeting on the floor too, to catch on dust or debris. 

2) Work wet - do not dry scrape or sand- it creates a fine dust and chips. Lightly mist the area with a spray bottle and then scrape the paint.

3) Clean up carefully - use two buckets - one for soap and water and one for rinse water.

4) Consider having a dust test conduted by a qualified inspector/risk assessor/paint sampler to make sure no hazardous dust is leftover.


We need to sell our home and buy another in a different location. How does one go about doing this nowadays? Will a bank grant us a new mortgage while we still have a mortgage on the house we wish to sell? In the past, we bought before we sold our old place without a problem. But banks seem to be more leary about lending now. What do people do in our situation?

The bank will only do that if you have enough income to cover both home payments comfortably. Most people sell first and then buy, with some juggling of the move-out and move-in dates in the contracts. It's not fun, but temporary housing for a couple of months is not out of the question.

Are you seeing settlements get delayed more than before? I recently closed on my house in Arlington, but it was delayed a week while the buyer's TSP came through. I've heard from a real estate lawyer that it used to be that the lenders would go ahead and clear the financing even while still waiting for something as secure as a TSP, but they don't do that anymore. Anecdotally, I've heard plenty of other reasons for delay that used to not happen any more. Would you recommend a longer time between contract and settlement? Mine was 5 weeks.

I'm sorry. TSP?

Listen, I understand that both of you are thrilled about "winning" and getting these stricter lead-paint regulations. But as a contractor, I can tell you you're out to lunch. Now I'm supposed to have some sort of certification about minimizing lead paint chips if I work on an old place. That's great for contractors who hire union employees and charge an arm and a leg. But, you know, for those of us who actually charge a low price, it's another obstacle. I go get some guys at the 7-11, have them chip the paint, and I know I can push them hard. They have no union steward to whom they can whine. What are they gonna do, complain to INS??? But now, I can't provide a safety net to these people, as I'm wasting my money paying for certifications. Or I have to buy off cops and inspectors to look the other way. Money that I could use to reduce prices or to hire more guests to our country. So, you know, before you go off making "policy change", think of us working on the front lines.

Well, that's interesting. And, btw, I didn't win or lose anything. I'm just relaying my own experience with remodeling. Oh, and I've read that lead can increase blood pressure in adults. You might wanna watch that.

We recognize that any regulatory change is tough for the regulated industry. The fact remains that nearly 40% of lead poisoning cases come from unsafe remodeling, painting and repair jobs. Those costs are simply externalized right now and placed on the families who have to cope with having a lead poisoned child and society in terms sky rocketing special education and juvenile justice system costs.


Sorry to say it, but I don't think it's very realistic to expect to find a townhouse at that price point anywhere near Clarendon. Probably tough to find a townhouse for that price anywhere in the DC metro area.

There are places in the metro area, but not really in Clarendon. Townhouses are relatively rare there, compared to condo apartments.

Do you have a good feel for the wisdom of putting a condo up for short sale vs. letting it go to foreclosure? I have a friend who is looking for a home, but is waiting because she figures all the short sales will eventually become foreclosures and she will get a better deal.

It's a roll of the dice. And meanwhile, interest rates are creeping up. No need to panic, but the wait-it-out strategy has its risks, too.

When my daughter moved out of state she listed her townhome with a professional management company. They advertised it in a military paper and on CraigsList. Never made it to any other publications that we know of, but she has a tenant. I would suggest checking online and even calling the local rental companies - they seem to do a pretty good job of connecting renters with available properties.

Thanks for the advice!

I have considered converting a small bedroom which is adjacent to the master bedroom into a master bathroom. Would losing a bedroom decrease my home's value? I have a rowhouse in NE with 4 bedrooms.

I'd say going from 4 br to 3, and gaining a master bath in the process is a value-adder. Going from 3 br to 2, maybe not. Going from 2 to 1, very likely not. Any agents out there with an opinion?

As a recent homebuyer, I will say that some of the biggest things that we noticed when looking at homes were ugly paint colors or wallpaper and stained rugs. Especially if your rugs are stained from pets. That's just dirty and I'm not going to think about living in a place with pet stains all over the place. Who knows how far down they've soaked?

I agree. I've been shocked at the condition some people leave their homes in when inviting in buyers. Seriously; I'm not buying someone else's dirt. A lowball investor would, though.

When did lead paint stop being commonly used?

Lead paint was banned in 1978, although some jurisdictions began phasing it out in the 1960s.


In the next few years, we'd like to sell our home and move to a better school district and we're wondering about the feasibility of qualifying for a mortgage in such a situation. In particular, we'd like to refinance our current home on a 30-year mortgage to take out some cash for a down payment and lower monthly payments (right now we have about 7 years left on a 15 year mortgage). We then plan to get a renter who can cover the mortgage payments for our current home. What would we need to do so that the rental payments counted as 'income' when qualifying for the new mortgage? (since we haven't rented or had this income in the past)?

Well, this kind of strategy was something much easier to pull off back in the loose lending days of the housing boom. Lenders are going to ask what you want the cash-out refi money for, and they won't like hearing "down payment." You also have to have a lot of equity to do a cash-out. (Halfway through a 15 yr mortgage you may be ok.) Then, if you get a renter, they'll only allow some of the rent to count as income. They allow for vacancies and other expenses. Plus--you don't have a rental history, so they'll be skeptical on that. Maybe you want to sell or rent out the old house first, then rent or buy in the new neighborhood. Take things one step at a time.

I am starting to see more short sale properties on the market with really low asking prices. Are these prices just teasers to get people interested, or are they really what the bank will accept? Seems like some of the prices are too good to be true.

If the seller can't tell you that the bank has approved that price, then it probably is wishful thinking.

We're buying a home built in 1965 that needs work. We plan to have it done before we move in, have the carpets cleaned, and the vents, cleaned, too. (There was a cat.) Should that take care of any lead dust that might have been kicked up? I'm now kinda worried about moving my toddler in.

I'd like to know more about the condition of the house before making a recommendation. Is the paint peeling? If so, where is it peeling? Will all of the surfaces be cleaned (e.g. all floors, window sills, porches)? The safest best would be to have a lead inspection. By law, you have a 10 day window for having such an inspection/risk assessment conducted before you are obligated under any contract.


We just got back our appraisal today and it is a whopping $40K lower than the agreed upon sales price! We were not surprised that it appraised for less, but surprised that it appraised for so much less. What happens now? Can the seller walk and get the full list price from another buyer? Does she have to disclose the appraisal to other buyers?

Hello -- chatter with the question about the appraisal contingency? Here's what happens. If you did not have a contingency in your offer, you're looking at either boosting your downpaymnt by $40k or possibly losing your earnest money. I don't think the seller must disclose the appraisal to anyone else, I mean, anyone is entitled to overprice their home. It's up to the buyers to keep from relying on an appraisal!

My advice to this person is to look into a condo or look to rent as you won't find a 300K around here. If you are living with your parents until you can afford to buy a townhome, you may be living with them until you are forty.

Thanks for chipping in.

As a local home remodeler, we are ready for RRP with certification and trained employees. We now need to educate our customers without alarming them. Any advice or tips in addition to using the EPA Renovate Right pamphlet?  How are you finding homeowners are reacting to the information surrounding the new rule?

I think most homeowners are just learning about the new  rule. And, speaking as someone who has gone through home renovations, anything that controls dust and dirt will be welcomed by homeowners. And it's much more reassuring to deal with someone who takes the issue seriously, rather than the "don't worry about it" dismissal I've heard from contractors in the past. Rebecca?

The renovate right brochure has some great messages for families. You can reinforce those messages by explaining that:

Lead can be found in most homes built before 1978. If it is properly maintained, there is no reason for alarm. This means that homes should not have peeling paint on the interior or exterior.

Here are some additional facts you can share with them:

38 million homes in the U.S. were built before 1978 and potentially contain lead-based paint. A lead inspection can tell you where lead is located in your home.

Children under age six are at greatest risk because their nervous systems are still developing and lead can interfere with the brain’s development, resulting in lifelong learning and behavior problems.

Most children are poisoned by invisible lead dust that is released when the paint is peeling, damaged or disturbed. The dust settles on floors and other surfaces where it can easily get on children’s hands or toys and into their mouths.

The new EPA rule will ensure the widespread use of lead-safe work practices in homes and child-occupied facilities.

Show them a a copy of their Certified Lead Renovator Training Certificate and the certificate of the Certified Renovator assigned to the job (two certificates in all) and ask for three references for recent similar jobs.

Tell them about the practices that you will follow to contain, control and clean up lead dust.

If they have additional questions, you should call 1-800-424-LEAD.


Thinking about other healthy housing issues, my parents are snowbirds who spend the winter in Florida. What health issues are likely to spring up when moving back into a house that's been vacant for eight months?

Interesting question. I've spent a summer in Florida, and I can attest to the propensity for mold and mildew to grow in a short time. Rebecca can address this better, I'm sure, but I would at least make sure I had brand-new filters on the heat and a/c system. Lysol any books laying around. And a good HEPA-filtered vacuum might be nice to have.

My parents are snow birds too. For northern homes left vacant, there are a couple of concerns - one is pests. A vacant house is also a great home for mice and other unwelcome visitors. Prior to vacating, your folks should make sure there are no open holes or cracks in the house and make sure not to leave any food behind. They also need to make sure there are no leaking faucets or dripping pipes. A small puddle of water is a great watering hole for pests. Check out our checklists for maintaining a healthy home.


Here are some other tips: 

Arrange lights  turn on periodically with a timer.

Make arrangements for a neighbor or friend to have a key to your house or apartment – or at least know where one is. Give them a number where you can be reached.

Unplug toaster, mixer, computer, TV and other appliances.

Turn down heat (not off! Or your pipes will freeze!), and or turn up air conditioning.

Take out all garbage

Make sure there are no wet clothes in washer or dryer – or wet rags in the sink or bathroom. 

Shut off the water — and make sure the dishwasher is not full of dirty dishes.


I am selling my house, and had buyers terminate a ratified contract, but I was told I can't get their earnest money, that it rarely happens, and often ends up in court. They terminated before inspection, appraisal, etc., saying only that they had 'changed their mind'. Do I have any recourse, or should I just move along?

Your agent probably doesn't want to get involved in a fight over this. You could sue. Do you want to?

You are right...there aren't many townhouses in Clarendon. In any event, those in the area (Courthouse, etc) are more in the $700K and up range. Honestly, outside the Beltway (pretty far outside) is probably this buyer's more likely neighborhood, at least in VA.

Or parts of DC and Prince George's County.

Thrift Savings Plan, a federal contribution retirement program that a lot of federal workers will use to help finance their down payment. Very commonly used in real estate transactions in the DC area, but the transfer of funds can sometimes be slow.

Thanks for the translation. Acronyms and I don't get along too well. Please post again next time as we're running out of time this week. But, yes, lenders have been picky. And they've been busy lately, too.

Thanks, everyone, for bearing with us and our technical snafus. And thanks to Rebecca for her patience. We did not get enough of her conversation in. The Real Estate section this week will also have a fun Inhabit article by Nancy McKeon about a lovely mid-century modern home in Hollin Hills, south of Alexandria. And their house tour is coming up soon, too.  I'll see you around the Local Address blog, and back again here in two weeks. Enjoy the weekend!

In This Chat
Elizabeth Razzi
Razzi authors the Local Address blog and is the editor of The Washington Post's Real Estate section. She is the author of two consumer-advice books: "The Fearless Home Buyer" (2006) and "The Fearless Home Seller" (2007).
Rebecca Morley
Morley is the executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing.
Paul Williams
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