Want to Avoid a Stressful Homebuying Journey? Do These Steps to Get Prepared

The homebuying process is fraught with challenges, and rarely does it go off without a hitch. But you can avoid some common hiccups with a bit of preparation.
Start off your homebuying journey by familiarizing yourself with the market. Figure out where you want to live; close to work, for example, or out in the ‘burbs. Or, in a neighborhood where owners can do as they please with their properties as opposed to a larger, master-planned community stocked with numerous amenities but governed by overzealous owners’ associations.
By knowing where you hope to buy, you can focus on houses – not just resale homes but also new construction – in that area as opposed to frantically running all over the map.
Even if you’re not ready to buy right away, get a feel for market conditions by taking a look at what’s for sale and how long houses remain on the market before being taken off the board. By understanding how fast – or how slowly – sales are occurring, you’ll know whether you will need to make your first offer your best one or you might have some wiggle room to negotiate.
Next, obtain copies of your credit report from the three national credit repositories – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – and review for any possible errors. Consumers find mistakes in their files all the time – accounts that belong to someone with a name similar to yours, for example, or closed accounts still listed as open. It can takes weeks or even months to correct those blunders, so start early.
Your credit history is extremely important because they are the basis for your all-important credit score. Lenders now swear by these snapshots in time of how you use and maintain credit. Indeed, they are often the basis for approving your application or turning it down.
Once a year, you are entitled to free copies of these reports. And because of COVID-19, the repositories are offering free weekly online reports through April 2021. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You will need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth to verify your identity.
It’s also never too early to line up the professionals you’ll need along the way – a real estate agent, lender, independent home inspector and possibly even an attorney.
Realtor showing terms of contract on tablet to couple. Real estate agent sharing property details with clients.Realtor showing terms of contract on tablet to couple. Real estate agent sharing property details with clients.
When choosing an agent, look for one who concentrates in the area where you want to move as opposed to an agent who works anywhere and everywhere. That agent will have the most in-depth knowledge about the area to help you with your decision. Second, look for an agent with a great roster of sales. That person may be busy, but he or she is also getting deals done. In addition, if the agent has a team working behind him, he or she can concentrate on what they do best – buying and selling.
Also, consider using a buyer-broker, who is an agent who works only on behalf of buyers and never for sellers. Too many agents say they are buyer-brokers but work both sides of the transaction, depending on their need, not yours. Buyer-brokers, on the other hand, never take a listing because they say it takes a certain mindset to represent buyers and buyers alone, a mindset they believe can’t be switched on and off at whim.
Most people looking for financing consider only the interest rate. But there’s more to financing than that. Service also is important, and with many lenders offering roughly the same rates, it has become key. That’s where your agent’s recommendation comes in.
Agents know which lenders get to the closing table on time without any problems and which ones are habitually late or tend to ask for more last-minute paperwork. So, give their preferred lenders a look, too. And while you’re at it, consider working with a mortgage broker who deals with multiple lenders and can search the market on your behalf.
Once you settle on a lender, apply to be pre-approved. Not pre-qualified, but pre-approved.
Pre-qualified means that based on what you tell the lender verbally or with minimal documentation, you look okay on paper. But you are still subject to full underwriting. Being pre-approved means that you’ve already gone through the underwriting process and are approved for financing up to a certain amount.
Being pre-approved is important for two reasons: One, it tells you in what price range you should be shopping, and two, it tells the seller that financing will not be an issue. Nowadays, some sellers won’t even entertain offers from would-be buyers who are not pre-approved for funding.
Even if you are buying a newly constructed home, lining up a home inspector early in the process is also important. These professionals will go over the house you intend to buy from stem to stern, making sure all the necessary systems are in working order and in decent shape; that doors and windows open and close properly, and that the roof is safe and secure.
They’ll also note any imperfections, but don’t sweat those details; otherwise, you could lose the property. Worry about the big things and bargain around them. Take care of the little things after you move in.
At the current pace of home sales, these professionals are busier than they’ve ever been. So find one you like, make a call and arrange for him or her to be available when you need it. I know of one recent buyer who latched on to an inspector he considered the best in his area and agreed to pay twice his fee so he would drop his other assignments and check out his house right away.
Make these preparations, and you’ll be ready for an easier homebuying experience. There are likely to be some waves as you proceed; there usually are. But, preparation can mean the difference between gentle swells and unexpected rogues. Happy house hunting!

Lew Sichelman

Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Source: homes.com

How to Move While Practicing Social Distancing

You bought a house prior to the pandemic, and now it’s time to move. Even if you didn’t buy a new place but still have to move, the day is here when you have to pull up stakes and go somewhere else. Yes, some moves are unexpected and this isn’t an especially great time to change places for any reason, but some people are left with few choices. But at this time, when the virus has yet to be contained, is it safe to move? It can be, if you take some precautions. The timing may not be ideal, but if you gotta go, you gotta go.
There are three main options you’ll have when deciding how you’ll be moving; with the help of family and friends, hiring a professional, or doing it by yourself. While you can ask friends and family to help you during your move, some of them might be hesitant due to the virus, so make sure you’re flexible and accepting of others willingness, or lack thereof, to help you pack up and get going. If you decide on hiring professional movers, someone is going to have to come into your current residence to see exactly what has to be moved and tell you what it will cost. Either option is going to result in you having to work closely with those you haven’t been self-isolating with, so keep in mind the proper social distancing protocols to keep you and your household safe.
moving with face mask social distancing coronavirus covid-19moving with face mask social distancing coronavirus covid-19

Tips for Moving While Practicing Social Distancing

When your friends, family, or moving professionals arrive, they should wear a mask, gloves and coverings on their shoes. Have plenty of disinfectant spray and hand sanitizer readily available to spray down boxes or high-touch areas or objects. Make sure you also set ground rules before starting the move so everyone is on the same page. Trying to stay six feet apart as much as possible, no contact with one another, put on new gloves if you’ve taken your pair off, are just some examples. Setting boundaries will help make everyone feel comfortable and safe while helping you move.
Another way to stay as protected as possible, is to buy new boxes or use ones that you already own. Now is not the time to try to save some money by scrounging around for used boxes since cardboard can carry the virus for 24 hours, so for the sake of your health, invest in new boxes. Most movers sell them as well as other packing supplies, and they’ll deliver them to your door. Just be sure to spray with a disinfectant prior to the big day. Another option? Sanitized plastic bins, but leave them outside or in the garage for 24 hours.
Before your dedicated helpers arrive, clean all the furniture that you are taking with you. Then, on the day of the move, wear masks and gloves, maintain a 6-foot safe zone, and ask that everyone washes their hands before jumping in. Follow these same precautions once you and your belongings arrive at your destination. Plus, disinfect everything and that has been padded and wrapped once it is unwrapped, and recycle the packing materials, including the boxes, when the move is complete.
And one more crucial tip: Make sure the move can be rescheduled or cancelled outright if someone in your household becomes ill because of the coronavirus.

Precautions to Take When Hiring Professionals

If you’ve chosen to hire a moving company to assist, you can – and should – accompany them as they go from room to room to answer any questions, but do so from a safe distance. There may be another alternative, though. Bellhops, a moving service company, books moves without the need for someone to come to your home, walk around and give you an estimate.
The Chattanooga-based firm is not a moving company in the traditional sense. Like Uber and Lyft, the company uses technology and a vast amount of data collected from performing more than 200,000 moves to base your cost on the time it believes will be involved rather than on weight or number pieces you need to move. Of course, someone has to actually perform the move. But, Bellhops bonded, licensed and insured movers are fully versed with the hygiene and social-distancing practices outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.
Each mover who arrives at your current location has deliberately chosen to accept the job. Each one arrives independently, wears gloves and a mask, avoids physical contact with his fellow workers, or the client, and cleans and disinfects the equipment used before and after the job.
If this 21st Century company isn’t active yet in your neck of the woods, you’ll have to find another mover. But if you do, make sure you and the professionals you hire take every precaution to protect your family and your things.

Read more:

Lew Sichelman

Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Source: homes.com

Acronyms of Real Estate: What Homebuyers Need to Know

Real estate is a regular smorgasbord of acronyms – everything from APR to REO. Here’s a list of the ones you’re likely to run into and what they mean when you’re buying or selling a house:

Acronyms You’ll Hear Associated with Real Estate Professionals

Real estate agents, builders and most other realty-related professions have numerous professional designations, all designed to set them apart from those who haven’t taken advanced courses in their fields. These designations don’t mean that professionals without letters after their names are not as experienced or skilled, but rather only that they haven’t taken the time to further their educations.

Read: How to Build Your Real Estate Team

Let’s start with the letter “R,” which stands for Realtor. A Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors, the nation’s largest trade group. NAR says it speaks for homeowners, and it usually does. But in that rare occasion when the interests of its members and owners don’t align, it sides with those who pay their dues.

Read: A Timeline of the History of Real Estate

NAR embraces a strict code of ethics. There are about 2 million active and licensed real estate agents nationwide, and 1.34 million can call themselves Realtors.

NAR members sometimes have the letters GRI or CRS after their names. The Graduate, REALTOR® Institute (GRI) designation signifies the successful completion of 90 hours of classroom instruction beyond the continuing education courses required by many states for agents to maintain their licenses. After the GRI, an agent may become a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) by advancing his or her education even further.

black family touring a house to buy racial homeownership gap discriminationblack family touring a house to buy racial homeownership gap discrimination

Builders can obtain the GBI – Graduate Builder Institute – designation by completing nine one-day classes sponsored by the educational arm of the National Association of Home Builders. Those who pass more advanced courses become Graduate Master Builders, or GMBs. Remodeling specialists with at least five years of experience can be Certified Graduate Remodelers, or CGRs. And, salespeople can be CSPs, or Certified New Home Sales Professionals.

In the mortgage profession, the Mortgage Bankers Association awards the Certified Mortgage Banker (CMB) and Accredited Residential Originator (ARO) designations, but only after completing a training program that may take up to five years to finish. To start the process, CMB and ARO candidates must have at least three years’ experience and be recommended by a senior officer in their companies.

Acronyms Associated with Mortgage Lending

When obtaining a mortgage, you will be quoted an interest rate; however, perhaps the more important rate is the annual percentage rate, or APR, which is the total cost of the loan per year over the loan’s term. It measures the interest rate plus other fees and charges.

An FRM is a fixed-rate mortgage, the terms of which never change. Conversely, an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) allows rates to increase or decrease at certain intervals over the life of the loan, depending on rates at the time of the adjustment.

Female client consulting with a agent in the officeFemale client consulting with a agent in the office

A conventional loan is one with an amount at or less than the conforming loan limit set by federal regulators on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two major suppliers of funds for home loans. These two quasi-government outfits replenish the coffers of main street lenders by buying their loans and packing them into securities for sale to investors worldwide.

Other key agencies you should be familiar with are the FHA and the VA. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) insures mortgages up to an amount which changes annually, as does the conforming loan ceiling. The Veterans Administration (VA) guarantees loans made to veterans and active duty servicemen and women.

LTV stands for loan-to-value. This important ratio measures what your are borrowing against the value of the home. Some lenders want as much as 20% down, meaning the LTV would be 80%. But in many cases, the LTV can be as great as 97%.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI), is a fee you’ll have to pay if you make less than a 20% down payment. PMI covers the lender should you default, but you have to pay the freight. Fortunately, you can cancel coverage once your LTV dips below 80%.

Your monthly payment likely will include more than just principal and interest. Many lenders also want borrowers to include one-twelfth of their property tax and insurance bills every month, as well. That way, lenders will have enough money on hand to pay these annual bills when they come due. Thus, the acronym PITI (principle, interest, taxes, and insurance).

Real-estate owned (REO) properties are foreclosed upon by lenders when borrowers fail to make their payments. When you buy a foreclosure, you buy REO. Short sales are not REO because, while they are in danger of being repossessed, they are still owned by the borrower.

houses real estate market selling buyinghouses real estate market selling buying

Acronyms You’ll Hear During an Appraisal

There is no acronym for an appraisal, which is an opinion of value prepared by a certified or licensed appraiser (though sometimes other types of valuation methods are used in the buying and selling process).

A Certified Market Analysis (CMA) is prepared by a real estate agent or broker to help determine a home’s listing price. A Broker Price Opinion (BPO) is a more advanced estimate of the probable future selling price of a property, and an automated valuation model (AVM) is a software program that provides valuations based on mathematical modeling.

AVMs are currently used by some lenders and investors to confirm an appraiser’s valuation, but they are becoming increasingly popular as replacements of appraisals, especially in lower price ranges.

Other Terms to Know

If you hear the term MLS, you should know it stands for multiple listing service. An MLS is a database that allows real estate brokers to share data on properties for sale, making the buying and selling process more efficient. There are many benefits to both homebuyers and sellers utilizing an MLS, for more information on how to get your home available through an MLS, work with a real estate professional when selling.

Read: What Buyers and Sellers Need to Know About Multiple Listing Services

Did you know? Homes.com has some serious MLS partnerships, no joke! When you start your home search on Homes.com, you’ll see accurate property information quickly so you’ll never have to wonder if a home is actually available.

House tourHouse tour

However, not all properties for sale are listed on the MLS. A home may be a for-sale-by-owner (FSBO), if the owner is selling his or her property without an agent and bypassing an MLS listing. In addition, some agents fail to enter their listings in the MLS for days or weeks at a time in hopes of selling to a list of preferred clients.

Read: Advantages of Buying With or Without an Agent

Finally, you may find yourself buying into a homeowners association (HOA) when you purchase a house or condominium apartment. HOAs are legal governing bodies that establish requirements everyone must adhere to in order to keep the community it oversees running smoothly and ensure property values are maintained.

Lew Sichelman

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Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Source: homes.com

5 A.I. Programs That Aims to Make Your Homebuying Journey Easier

When its comes time to sell the family home and move on, people have a ton of options. And the good news with technology is most of those options can be narrowed down by the help of an app. For example, there’s an app that helps buyers figure out almost instantaneously what it will cost to make any improvements to the house they are considering before even making an offer. And another helps determine if the place you are looking at is in a high-risk area for floods, tornadoes or other natural disasters.

Still, housing is very much a people-to-people experience, and agents remain at the center of the transaction, no matter how much they leverage technology, says Mike Delprete, a real estate technology strategist. “Technology is an enabler, not a disruptor,” he says. “Companies which try to replace agents with technology always fail. They just don’t get the traction.” So while using these apps can be great at helping you narrow down these ‘options’ you’ll face, having an agent on your real estate team will be the most helpful tool. Here’s a quick look at some of the programs, apps, and software you should consider as a potential homebuyer:

Know Your Remodeling Estimate Before Making an Offer

In today’s market, buyers have to move fast. Otherwise, they could very well be beat out by someone else who’s ready to pull the trigger right away. But it’s tough to bid on a house that you want to remodel, perhaps upgrade the kitchen or redo the main bath, without knowing what the renovation might cost. To make matters worse, it could take days or even weeks to find a quality contractor to look over the job, and days after that to receive a bid. But you don’t have that kind of time. You have to know now, if not down to the penny, at least a ballpark idea of what the work will cost.

Read: 5 Minor Remodeling Projects That Increase Home Value

remodeling program helps homebuyersremodeling program helps homebuyers

Enter Remodel It. The New York City-based start-up removes the time and guesswork out of the equation by using advanced computer vision technology to provide instant free remodeling estimates before you ever talk to a contractor. The program’s AI allows for such factors as quality, materials room size and more based on property photos.

“Renovation and material cost information is gathered from across the country, compiled, and connected to our AI models to estimate the cost of renovation projects and help you make the most informed home purchasing decision, so you can move quickly and confidently through the home buying and renovation process,” says founder Vin Vomero.

More Quotes for Flood Protection

Speaking of floods, if you are buying a house located in a flood plain, your lender will require that you purchase flood insurance. That’s probably an added expense you hadn’t expected. But with CartoFront, which is offered only through brokers, agents and multiple listing services, you can instantly obtain flood quotes from private and public insurers.

Read: A Guide to Flooding, Home Insurance, and Waterproofing

Long Distance Move? Know the Climate Before You Go

If you’re worried about the climate where you’re looking for a new primary residence or vacation property, plug in the address of the place you are considering and ClimateCheck.com will produce an extensive report telling you, among other things, the risk for storms, higher temperatures, drought, flood and fire. It will also give you an overall risk score.

Read: Moving Across the Country: Branden Harvey’s Experience

moving technology that helps homebuyersmoving technology that helps homebuyers

Short-term Residences for When Your New Home Isn’t Move-in Ready

You’ve sold your current house but the new one isn’t ready. Where do you go? If an apartment or hotel isn’t appealing, and moving in with a relative just doesn’t work, call on Tweener Homes, a property technology company that connects people who need a temporary residence with furnished single-family homes, for a short as a month to as long as a year.

Tweener’s platform is intuitive, seamless and as convenient as booking a hotel room online. It offers a certified inventory of houses that have been personally inspected. Photos and videos on the site have been are taken by the company, ownership is verified and a full background check is completed on those wishing to rent, providing a stress-free option for both tenants and owners.

Offer Self-guided Home Tours with UTour

Because of the pandemic, self-guided tours – aka unattended access – have changed the way buyers are visiting houses for sale, especially in the new home market. That way, you can view a house alone, on your time, without worrying about who else will be in the place and whether they will be wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing.

Read: A Quick Guide to Virtual Tours for Buyers and Sellers

Several programs are available that allow agents to schedule and grant access from a remote location. But UTour stands out. It works with a variety of smart locks. It works with voice technology so visitors don’t have to download anything to their phones or tablets. And it uses various data integration techniques to connect with other software applications.

Once you schedule a tour on the builder’s website, UTour sends you a digital code that allows access to the house. When your visit is complete, the software triggers a chatbot program that connects with a remote sales agent who you can tell what you liked about the house, what you didn’t and your interest in proceeding to the next step.

Lew Sichelman

Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Source: homes.com

The Pros and Cons of Building a Home in Today’s Market

In a year where new constructions are on the rise, and existing homes are swept off the market as quick as they arrive, some may be left wondering, “What’s the best option for me?” While newly built homes help offset the housing shortage and the demand that follows, sometimes waiting for a home to be built, location, and other cons could prevent that route from being a suitable choice or vice versa. These are the pros and cons of buying a newly constructed home.

Read: The Pros and Cons of Building as a First-time Homebuyer

new home construction pros and cons building a homenew home construction pros and cons building a home



Inspections can cost and the majority of buyers spend $300-$500, or more, depending on the size of the house, to get one. But, they’re worth the money. Having a proper inspection can help prevent you from having to deal with the repercussions of say a leaky roof, needing to repair an HVAC system, or any other problems you may find in an aging house. And, if these problems are large and expensive enough, they can drastically change your plan on buying the home – whether it be renegotiating or backing out altogether. But, don’t rely on your newly constructed home to not need an inspection. It’s always smart to bring an inspector into your newly constructed home too as they can identify areas of concerns which your contractor may have overlooked or worked too fast on, luckily, these repairs should be covered by a builders warranty.


Unfortunately, the inventory of existing houses for sale is dwindling with many would-be sellers still reluctant to put their places on the market and have visitors tour them at all hours of the day. And even though many realty agents have switched to virtual showings, most buyers eventually want to see a house close up and in person. Home builders, on the other hand, are rushing to meet demand. At last report, construction is surging above last year’s production figures. So, with newly constructed homes, inventory isn’t an issue. You find the development you’re interested in an explore their options to see if it’s a good fit for you. You can also independently purchase land to build your home on – the world can really feel like your oyster.

Read: How New Construction Homes are Helping Ease the Housing Shortage

Your Home’s Design

Inside the latest models, you’re likely to find larger rooms and open floor plans as opposed to the chopped up rooms found in most older existing houses. Open kitchens with islands and lots of light are the rage now, for example. Sometimes the master bedroom suite will be on the first floor, or maybe there will be two such enclaves instead of just one.

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Garages, too, are usually standard fare. In most new houses, you can park not just one but two cars under roof, whereas many older places don’t have even a one-car garage. And baths are far more luxurious, with a soaking tub and separate shower, a closeted commode and perhaps even his-and-her sinks.

Energy Efficiency

A new house is almost guaranteed to be more energy efficient, meaning it’s going to be less expensive to heat than an older place of comparable size. You’ll find brand new, never been used appliances that are probably Energy Star rated, and possibly even smart thermostats, door bells and other technological upgrades.


What’s more, most builders these days allow their buyers to customize their houses to one degree or another. Some will let you move walls. And the list of options and upgrades is often without limit. You can pick your flooring, cabinets, appliances, paint and any number of other features.

You’ll also get to pick your building site. Some lots may be more expensive than others, but you have the choice of a lot with a view, a wooded lot or possible even one near water. Be aware, though, that in some places, the cost of the house doesn’t include the price of the lot it will sit on.



None of this is to say existing houses don’t have advantages over newly built places. They do. For example, they’re generally less expensive. And you can haggle, not only on the price but closing costs, settlement date and what must stay with the house.

Read: How to Make an Offer That Will Win a Bidding War

negotiating on a home salenegotiating on a home sale

Actually, everything is negotiable when you buy a resale, right down to the dog the seller may not want to take with him. On the other hand, builders tend to balk at even discussing a lower price. They might throw in a free option or upgrade — maybe even two or three — but that’s about it. For the most part, their prices as firm.

Location, Location, Location

Existing houses are often in more desirable locations, too. Closer-in neighborhoods that, more often than not, are mature, much more so than new home projects. The landscape around the immediate house, its neighbors and up and down the street is likely to be full grown, with a spreading canopy of tree tops with swaths of colorful flowers and shrubs dotting the area.

Furthermore, the dynamics of the neighborhood are usually established. Many of the residents are long-termers who probably have been there for years. And you can tell how well they’ve flourished by how well – or perhaps more importantly, how poorly – they’ve kept up their properties.

You won’t know what you’re going to get in a brand new subdivision. Your neighbors could be great, and usually are. Most ne’er-do-wells don’t buy new homes. But you never know; your neighbor could turn out to be a deadbeat, a malcontent or just someone with whom you’d rather not associate. You can choose your house but you can’t choose your neighbor.

Charm and Character

Older homes also tend to have more character,and some people just prefer to live in a home that has that worn-in feel. There’s also the added benefit of buying a fixer-upper, homes that are existing but just need a little more TLC than a typical property.

older home charm and characterolder home charm and character


You are probably not going to get lush landscaping with a new home that you would with an existing one. But at least you can plant what you want once you move in to make it your own. And unlike years past, when builders tended to clear-cut wide swaths of the earth and then replant an immature tree or two and a few shrubs once the house was finished, most builders these days are going out of their way to save trees and other plantings.

Read: The 7 Best Ways to Landscape That Will Add Real Value to Your Home

Is Proximity Important?

New construction usually takes place further out into the suburbs. You might be able to find an in-fill property here and there. But for the most part, a new home usually means a longer commute to work. It also means you might have to wait for shopping, schools, libraries, firehouses and other key pieces of infrastructure to be built. Those things usually come after there are enough homes and people to support them.

Outside Noise

It’s also highly likely that you’re going to have to deal with on-going construction noise and traffic until the property is built out. That could range from hammering and bulldozing outside your bedroom window in the early hours of the morning as the house next door takes shape.

For more information on building or buying your next home, you can visit Homes.com’s How To section for step-by-step guides on both of the processes.

Lew Sichelman

Syndicated newspaper columnist, Lew Sichelman has been covering the housing market and all it entails for more than 50 years. He is an award-winning journalist who worked at two major Washington, D.C. newspapers and is a past president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

Source: homes.com