The Washington Post

Navigating the housing market

Mar 05, 2013

Real estate agent Marjorie Dick Stuart of W.C. & A.N. Miller takes your questions about buying and selling a home in the Washington D.C. region.

Thanks for joining me today to chat about the housing market. I look forward to answering your questions. Let's go! 

Hello - we're about to put our house on the market, and will be interviewing three realtors next week. What questions should I ask them? And is it common to use the same realtor to sell your house and then to buy your next house? Thanks for you help!

Questions you should ask are:

What do I need to do to my house to get it ready to put it on the market?

What is your track record representing sellers?(How many days on market?, sales price compared to list price?)

What is your marketing strategy?

What is your expertise in negotiating?

Can you provide several testimonials/references?

What differentiates you from other agents?

It can be beneficial in coordinating transactions to use the same agent.

How long should one wait before reducing the price on their property, particularly if you are not getting any offers?

Properties priced at market are typically selling within two weeks. If they are not getting offers and lots of showings in that time period it is time to seriously evaluate what needs to be done to get increased activity and or an offer. Sometimes it is price and sometimes it is a combination of price and other factors such as the condition of the property, the availability when a buyer wants to see the house, and marketing activities. The changes should be made immediately so the listing does not become stale. All feedback from buyers and agent should be considered when making this change.

How difficult is it to successfully bid on a home if your offer is contingent on selling your current home? Does this vary depending on the price of the home on which you are bidding? I would guess that a $250,000 condominium would be different than a $1,200,000 single family home. What about the length of time that the home has been on the market?

Great question!

It is not easy to buy a house with a home sale contingency, but it can be done. It doesnt have as much to do with the price of the property as the situation. Lets say you want to buy a house which has been on the market for at least 30 days and that owner has not taken any offers(or has not had any). In our market where houses are selling in 14 days and most sellers expect to see multiple offers in the first weekend, they might be ready to look at a home sale contingency. When presenting a home sale contingency to any Seller you must show that your property will sell right away or in about 14 days. You will probably have to pay a premium price.  To do this you should show some photos of the house you are selling, comprable properties to prove that your house is more than well priced, show the track record of the agent you will be using( how fast they sell their houses in this market and that they have sold a lot of them.

If you find a house for sale that is not officially on the market this could be a good opportunity to work out a home sale contingency, since timing might not be as much of an issue for this Seller.

Another approach, since we are in a Seller's market is to put your property on the market first and make sure the salkes contract includes language that allows you time to purchase another home.

In my experience, this is quite common and you may be able to use the leverage of the two transactions to negotiate a lower commission on the sale.

"What will you do when my house doesn't sell quickly? Will you simply insist that we lower the price, or will you do additional marketing? And if you just want to lower the price, doesn't that mean that you were overestimating the value to get my listing, knowing that this would probably happen?"

A good agent will tell you what you need to know in the beginnining, not what they think you want to hear. This pertains to condition, accessibility for showing, pricing strategy and marketing approach. You should be getting specific feedback from agents and prospective Purchasers which should be considered in determining which of the above factors might require adjustment.

When I recommend a price  range it's based on recent sales activity and area competition. However, once we are on the market we find out what the market (prospective purchasers) will bear.

I am in the process of selling my condo by myself. I have a buyer and he is busy getting qualified. Is there anything I should be doing or should know about during this process? This is my first time and, though I am so happy at the realtors fees I'm saving, I'm sure there are some pitfalls.

Yes. Lots of things.

You should make sure your Purchaser is using a local lender who hopefully has local appraisers who are familiar with our market.

Make sure your Purchaser has been approved by their lender based on a complete application, including credit report and verification of funds, income and debts.

Make sure that you are in compliance with all the laws/disclosures  in your jurisdiction and that your Contract is also. Since you are not using an agent you should consult with a local real estate attorney to advise you and to review your Contract.

You should find out what fees are customary for the Seller to pay, as they should be addressed in the contract.


How soon before one intends to move should they put their house on the market? In other words, if I wanted to move to my new residence by, say, October 1, when should I plan on selling my current residence?

It varies depending on where you are. For example, in upper NW Washington sixty to ninty days should give you plenty of time if priced at market value.

I have heard that now is a terrible time, that I should wait and buy later for significantly less money. I currently live in Bethesda, where we are renting since moving down from New York. I'm looking in the $800k-1MM range, specifically at Cleveland Park. Do you think I'd be better off waiting?

No, you are not better off waiting. I specialize in Cleveland Park and currently there are very few properties for sale which is consistant with the record  low inventory throughout the Metro area. If anything, this will cause prices to increase not drop.



My family is expanding and we should start looking to buy a house. We currently live in Arlington and would like to stay there because it splits my commute evenly with my husband's, and because of good schools and quality of life. My husband and I are not wealthy but make good salaries (just under $200k/year) and we rent our home though I own a small condo in DC. We live frugally but pay a nanny for childcare. I guess my question is, is it possible for us to buy a house in our area? What is the best way to start? Whenever I look at real estate listings, I don't see much of anything under $800K which I think is crazy. We don't need a huge house but I don't particularly want to buy a condo because I like to garden and have outside space.

I think a good place for you to start would be to contact a local lender to get prequalified. See what these all time low interest rates will mean to you in a monthly payment and price range. Once you figure that out find a real estate agent who knows the area and can look at your wish list and help you figure out where those houses are likely to be which meet your criteria.

I live in an area with extremely low home inventory and that is fairly desirable. We plan to put outr house on the market to , but don't need to be in our new location until August. When should we put it on the market? We're in no hurry to leave the area, but don't want to miss a window to sell our place for a good price. Also, you mentioned negotiating commission. Is this common, and what kind of reduction can we expect?

It is possible to put your house on the market now or any time within the next few months and take advantage of this great Sellers' market. Buyers come from all kinds of living situations. Your house could be perfect for someone who is not in a hurry to move, someone who is in a month to month rental, someone selling another, and lots of other situations. Commissions are individually negotiated on a case by case basis.

I recently received an appraisal that was quite low, I was doing this for a refinance. I have since seen units going for sale in my bldg/neighborhood for 30-40K more. Are condos selling/ able to sell for more than appraisal values?

Are you talking about list prices? or docuented sales prices? A property will sell for what a buyer is willing to pay. Appraisals may or may not reflect the current market activity.

What advice do you have for young couples (late 20s) who are starting to think about buying a home in the city? How do we start to figure out what we can afford, especially since we don't really have experience with the costs of home ownership beyond the mortgage? We really love our current neighborhood, and would love to stay there, but after looking at the listings on trulia, we'll probably need a $100,000 down payment if we wanted to do the traditional 20%. What other options are there? Where are some good places to look for other neighborhoods that might have what we like about our neighborhood in a different income zone? Thanks so much for holding this chat!

My best advice is find an agent and schedule a meeting to explain and help you through the process and how they can help you through it. There is a lot to learn!

My husband and I are retired and own a second home in a beach area, which we might move to full time, but we wonder if we would be bored during the winter. We live in Northern Virginia from November - April. IF we decide to sell our VA house, is it better to move our furniture and belongings out of it completely, or leave it semi-furnished to show? We would want to do a thorough cleaning and it seems like it would be easier to clean if all our stuff is gone.

If you have the choice, it is best to show your house almost like a model home. Find an agent who uses a good "stager". They will recommend whether any of your furniture should be utilized. Take their advice.

In my experience with houses which have been priced at market and have sold for  full price and more, many were "staged".  My definition of staging is clean with clean windows, one to three items on any surface, fresh light paint (taupe-like color) current looking furniture and light fixtures, fresh looking kitchens and baths with new appliances and nice countertops.

Hi, Marjorie, We're fortunate to own two homes in Hyattsville. We started out as reluctant landlords with our first home two years ago and have actually had a great experience renting it out. We own (and live in) another house just around the block. Now we're sadly facing a move because of a job relocation. We could sell the first (rented) house for a significant profit but our current house may or may not break even. The complicating factor is that we may very well return to the DC area after a few years and if we do, we want to be right back in our beloved neighborhood. At the same time, I can't see being a landlord for two houses. Sorry this is so rambling, I just am afraid that if we sell both houses, that we wouldn't be able to afford to move back into the area. I'd definitely like to know your thoughts.

If you want to return to your present house  and not be a landlord for two properties it would seem to make the most sense to sell your rental property and rent your current residence.

My parents are planning to put their Montgomery County house on the market soon and finding a realtor. But they are living in Thailand currently. How much do you think they would be able to do from afar? Should they be planning on coming back several times through the process? Or maybe just once to interview/hire a realtor and another time to sign the closing papers?

Your parents should be able to do everything pertaining to the transaction from Thailand. This includes signing a listing agreement, negotiating the contract and completing settlement.

We're a dual fed household with a large downpayment to hand...but are looking at a 20% pay trim, each, if we're furloughed. So, even with the downpayment, we're wondering if, were we to buy a place this year, the pay cut we'll be taking will likely impact what we qualify for as a mortgage to the extent to which it would it make it smart to sit out the summer market?

If you know what your future financial situation will be, you can plan for it and not necessarily sit out the summer. Get together with a good local lender to discuss your situation.

Sorry I couldn't get to all your questions. Thank you so much for participating today. This was actually a lot of fun! 

We went overtime, but we still couldn't get to all your questions. We will try to answer those questions we didn't get to on our blog, Where We Live ( Thanks, Kathy Orton, web editor 

In This Chat
Marjorie Dick Stuart
Marjorie Dick Stuart of W.C. & A.N. Miller Realtors is one of Cleveland Park's top real estate professionals. She can be reached through her Web site, or 240-731-8079.
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