A picture is worth a thousand words, and could be worth thousands of dollars when it comes to attracting the right buyers to your home.
Let’s face it, buyers form their first impression of your home based on the online listing. As they say, Web appeal is the new curb appeal.
If you are serious about selling your home, you have to take your listing photo shoot very seriously. If your photos don’t excite buyers, they may not step foot inside.
You should prepare for your photo shoot as much as you would for an open house or private showing. Work alongside an excellent local real estate agent, and follow these tips to make sure your home looks its best.
Never list your home online without photos
Today’s buyers get email and text alerts when a new home that matches their criteria hits the market. There is nothing more frustrating than to see the desired address come across as an alert, only for the listing to be incomplete.
Buyers (and agents) will punish you for jumping the gun. Will they go back later and look again, once you have the photos up? Maybe — but maybe not.
You’re adding an extra step for them, and it comes across like you don’t have your ducks in a row. That’s not a great way to start out with your future customer.
Clean, declutter, organize and remove
You should spend a good amount of time preparing for your photo shoot. This means that you fluff the pillows, put toilet seats down, put Fido’s bowl and toys away, and ensure the home is in impeccable condition.
People can zoom in, zoom out and play with photos in online listings. They’ll notice everything. If your photos don’t show your home well, it sends a message to the buyer that you don’t care, and that you are not a serious seller.
The buyer is your customer. You have a product for sale. Take the time to present it in the best possible light.
Poor photos won’t cut it
Images that are blurry, poorly lit, or distorted are not going to sell your home.
It’s a good idea to hire a professional photographer who will take high-resolution photos, and even bring extra lighting or equipment to enhance their work. They’ll also take dozens of pictures and work tirelessly to show your home in the right light and from the best angles.
Don’t skimp on the number of photos
When it comes to photos, the more, the merrier. You want to make it easy on buyers to get comfortable with and learn more about your home.
Not only are the listing photos their initial impression, but they serve to help orient the buyer after the first or second showing. Once they have been through the home in person, they are better able to relate to the floor plan and how it flows. Going back to the listing photos allows them to make connections and dig deeper. Encourage them to do so by posting plenty of photos.
Ready to put your home on the market? Check out our Home Sellers Guide for more tips and resources.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
It isn’t common for a buyer to renovate a home and embrace a truly retro vibe, but that’s exactly what the owners of one midcentury modern residence in Austin, TX, did.
The 7,000-square-foot Atomic Age classic, built in 1963 on Balcones Drive, is now on the market for $3.95 million. Its color palette is right out of the TV series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
“The owners bought it in 2017. The home had been updated in the 1970s and ’80s, and a lot of the original things were torn out, so the owners actually went by the original pencil blueprints and restored it,” explains the listing agent, Rebecca Wolfe Spratlin.
The architect Charles Granger of the popular Austin firm Fehr & Granger originally designed the space for Dr. Byron Smith and his wife, Irene, in 1963.
Granger is known for his designs of a number of buildings in the Austin area, including the iconic blue airport control tower for Austin’s former airport. The tower still stands as part of a new residential and commercial development on the old airport land.
Irene Smith was a real estate agent in Austin for over 50 years, Wolfe Spratlin says, and came by to a broker’s open house at the property recently.
“She and her husband are still living in the area,” she adds, “so she was able to come in and walk through the entire house. It was so fun to talk to her about her memories.”
The current owners are the fifth family to call the place home, and they’ve dubbed it Sky Crest. The name is an homage to the distinctive airport control designed by Granger, as well as to the color scheme of the house.
The house, true to midcentury form, has clean lines and a wealth of windows
“The whole house in the front is glass, just walls of glass,” Wolfe Spratlin explains. “It’s got natural light just pouring in.”
A fence and gate surround the house. The true glory of the home is only visible once you’re inside the gate.
“You punch in the code, and the gate opens, and you see this amazing light-blue kind of light turquoise house. It’s very long and expansive,” Wolfe Spratlin says.
Up the front steps, you enter the house on the second level.
“The ceilings are vaulted, and there’s a wooden screen that was recreated according to the original blueprints,” the agent adds.
That wood screen, most of the light fixtures, and other furnishings were custom-created for the house’s wide-open floor plan.
“There’s a Sputnik light fixture right as you come in. Then, on the staircase, they had a custom-made light that’s very retro and appropriate for the setting,” Wolfe Spratlin says.
In keeping with the vibe, the kitchen is straight out of the early 1960s. However, all the appliances are new and from Big Chill, with retro styling.
The laminate countertops had to be imported from Italy to match the color, because the owners couldn’t find the right shade of vibrant turquoise in the United States, Wolfe Spratlin explains.
The retro vibes continue in the pink kitchenette in the master bedroom. The master bedroom is on the main floor and has another interesting feature—a night bathroom.
Because the master bedroom is so big, and the master bathroom is at the very opposite end of the bedroom, a small powder room was located close to the bed, Wolfe Spratlin explains.
What’s more, for those who have to get up in the middle of the night, this little room has a heated floor and heated toilet seat.
There’s another bedroom on the main level, and three more bedrooms on the lower level. The bottom level features a game room and a home theater.
For the utmost in convenience, a snack bar in the hallway right outside the theater is served by a dumbwaiter that comes down from the main kitchen.
Outside, by the pool, the outdoor kitchen is covered by turquoise sails, perfect for enjoying and entertaining.
“The perfect buyer to me is somebody who just really gets it—and not only gets it, but loves it,” Wolfe Spratlin says. “So you need to have somebody that gets it, loves it, and understands the value of its design.”
An ‘Open House’ sign is displayed as potential home buyers arrive at a property for sale in Columbus, Ohio.
Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Record-low mortgage rates may now be a headline of the past.
Now, several weeks of rising rates are dousing what was incredibly high demand for refinancing. That pulled total weekly mortgage application volume down 1.9% last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) increased to 2.92% from 2.88%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.33 (including the origination fee) for loans with a 20% down payment. The rate was 95 basis points higher one year ago.
The average rate on the 15-year fixed rose for the first time in seven weeks, to 2.48%.
With higher rates now offering less potential savings, applications to refinance a home loan fell 5% for the week but were 87% higher than a year ago. That annual comparison had been more than 100% just last week.
“Market expectations of a larger than anticipated fiscal relief package, which is expected to further boost economic growth and lower unemployment, have driven Treasury yields higher the last two weeks,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting. “After a post-holiday surge of refinances, higher rates chipped away at refinance demand.”
Demand from homebuyers, however, increased despite the higher rates. Mortgage applications to purchase a home rose 3% for the week and were 15% higher than a year ago. The coronavirus pandemic spurred strong demand for larger, suburban homes. Despite the vaccine rollout, that demand does not appear to be abating. The biggest hurdles for homebuyers right now are high prices and record-low inventory of homes for sale.
“Homebuyers in early 2021 continue to seek newer, larger homes,” Kan said. “The average loan size for purchase loans jumped to $384,000, the second highest level in the survey,” which dates to 1990.
The incoming Biden administration is preparing to make multiple moves in the housing market that could favor both homebuyers and builders. Mortgage rates, however, started the week flat, as traders are likely awaiting the first major economic policy announcements before making a move.
An ‘Open House’ sign is displayed in the front yard of a home for sale in Columbus, Ohio.
Ty Wright | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mortgage interest rates have increased in four of the first six weeks of 2021, putting a chill on mortgage demand.
Overall mortgage application volume fell 4.1% last week compared with the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s seasonally adjusted index.
The move down came as the average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances of up to $548,250 increased to 2.96% from 2.92%, for loans with a 20% down payment. The rate was 76 basis points higher a year ago.
Refinance demand, which is most sensitive to weekly rate fluctuations, fell 4% for the week but were 46% higher than a year ago. That annual comparison had been over 100% at the start of this year but has been shrinking.
“Despite some weekly volatility, Treasury rates have been driven higher by expectations of faster economic growth as the Covid-19 vaccine rollout continues,” said Joel Kan, the MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.
The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 70.2% of total applications from 71.4% the previous week, the lowest level in three months.
Homebuyers are also pulling back, but less because of rising mortgage rates and more because of low supply and overheating home prices. Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell 5% for the week but were still 17% higher year over year.
“Purchase applications cooled the first week of February, but homebuyers are still very active,” Kan said. “The average purchase loan size continued to increase, reaching another survey high of $402,200, as the higher-priced segment of the market continues to perform well.” The MBA began its weekly survey nearly 31 years ago.
The higher-priced segment is doing so well because there is so much more supply. The low end of the market is incredibly slim, and that is forcing first-time buyers to the sidelines. The total number of homes for sale in January hit a new low, down nearly 43% from a year earlier, according to realtor.com. Homes also sold on average 10 days faster.
Many home buyers these days have to move quickly. That’s because demand outweighs supply, and appealing homes that hit the market often generate bidding wars and sell fast.
Some buyers eager to move fast will buy a home ‘sight unseen,’ without ever touring the place in person.
This can be a good strategy in a competitive real estate market. But sight-unseen homes aren’t without risk. Here’s what you should know before making an offer.
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What does it mean to buy a house ‘sight unseen’?
Purchasing a home ‘sight unseen’ means buying it without having toured the property in person first.
Typically, someone buying a home sight-unseen will have looked at pictures and videos online and likely taken a virtual tour.
While it might sound odd to buy a home without having set foot in it, more and more home buyers are choosing to do so.
According to recent research by Redfin, a surprising 63% of those who purchased a home in 2020 made an offer on a property they hadn’t viewed in person.
Why remote home buying is increasing
There are several reasons why more buyers are opting to purchase a home sight unseen lately.
“Given the ongoing [coronavirus] pandemic, it makes sense that people make offers on properties without actually physically touring them,” says Rajeh Saadeh, a real estate attorney, investor, and professor.
“After all, people are trying to limit physical contact and going into places where they do not know if any occupants have COVID-19.”
“In hot markets, you must submit offers in minutes or hours, not days” –Bruce Ailion, Realtor and attorney
Bruce Ailion, a Realtor and attorney, agrees.
“The market has changed. People need to move quickly, and touring a home in person before an offer may not be possible. In hot markets, you must submit offers in minutes or hours, not days,” he says.
He points out, “Today, photos and videos are of better quality. And a smart buyer should be able to rely on a high-quality agent or broker to act as their eyes, ears, nose, and fiduciary.”
How to buy a house sight unseen
The process of buying a home sight unseen isn’t too different from a traditional home purchase. You’re simply using online photos, videos, and tours in place of an in-person tour or open house.
Saadeh says the following steps are involved for the buyer:
Evaluate the property remotely using photos, facetime or video tours, and descriptions provided by your real estate agent or broker
Get pre-approved for a mortgage to show the seller you can afford to finance the home
Make an official offer to the seller to purchase the property
If the seller likes the offer and accepts it, you and the seller prepare a contract
Both parties sign the contract
You make an earnest money deposit (or ‘good faith money’) in cash
You have the property professionally inspected (optional but strongly recommended, especially for a sight-unseen offer). If you are satisfied with the inspector’s findings, the deal continues
You order a title report. If the title is clear or clearable at closing, the deal continues
You choose a mortgage lender, finalize the terms of your home loan, and lock an interest rate
Then, as with any purchase, you’ll schedule a closing date to sign your final loan documents.
Once the mortgage is finalized, your lender pays the home seller and the home title transfers to you. You’re now the official owner.
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Is buying a home sight unseen a bad idea?
There are pros and cons to purchasing a home sight unseen.
“On the positive side, you may get to purchase the property for a bit less because you moved quickly and avoided a bidding war,” notes Caleb Parr, vice president of Sales and Acquisitions at Renshaw Company Realtors.
Virtual home tours can also be helpful for long-distance purchases, like buying a home out of state.
“Most people end up visiting a home multiple times during the purchase phase. This can cost a lot of money if you are having to travel out of state to tour the home,” says Nathaniel Hovsepian investor and owner of The Expert Home Buyers.
“You may get to purchase the property for a bit less because you moved quickly and avoided a bidding war” –Caleb Parr, VP of Sales and Acquisition, Renshaw Company Realtors
On the other hand, with a sight-unseen offer, you won’t have the benefit of previewing the property in person.
You’ll have to rely on photos, video, virtual tours, and the descriptions and opinions provided by your real estate agent and home inspector.
“Given that a home purchase is likely the most expensive transaction of your life, it’s important to adequately ‘kick the tires’ and determine the true condition of the property,” cautions real estate attorney Charles R. Gallagher.
“There is great risk in failing to see defects to the property with a sight-unseen purchase, particularly if you choose not to have the home professionally inspected.”
Even when you’re in a rush, real estate experts recommend getting a home inspection to make sure there aren’t any major issues the seller neglected to disclose. An inspection is your one chance to get the seller to cover repair costs — or walk away if the problem is a deal-breaker.
Precautions to take with sight unseen homes
Again, there are risks involved with committing to a sight-unseen home. To minimize these risks, it pays to take special precautions.
“Try to have someone you trust at least drive-by the home and take fresh videos and pictures so that you know what you are getting. It’s possible that these images may more accurately reflect the property’s current condition than the images displayed on a website,” says Parr.
A friend or family member in the area you hope to buy could be a big help in this regard.
Additionally, consider placing a home inspection contingency in your offer.
“A buyer does not have a trained eye to notice or even look for issues and concerns with a home. It’s always prudent to have the property professionally inspected, whether or not the buyer did a walk-through or simply viewed pictures and video before making the offer,” advises Saadeh.
Also — using your agent as your representative — be sure to ask the homeowner about any aspects you aren’t sure about based on the listing photos and video tours; including home features, appliances, systems, design aspects, or potential renovations.
Buying a house sight unseen FAQ
Can you put in an offer on a home without viewing it?
It’s perfectly legal to make an offer on a home ‘sight unseen,’ meaning you haven’t viewed it in person. Sight-unseen offers are becoming more popular as home inventory remains low and COVID prevents home buyers from touring propreties.
What is a sight unseen addendum?
A sight unseen addendum is part of a home purchase agreement. It indicates the buyer has not seen the property in person, and accepts the purchase terms without an in-person viewing and without walk-through contractual entitlements, per real estate attorney Charles Gallagher.
Can you buy a house virtually?
It’s possible to buy a home virtually. But it has more to do with how your mortgage closes than how you view the home. “Some may define a sight-unseen purchase and a virtual purchase as the same thing. However, a remote or video closing doesn’t involve closing in person, which can happen even if the property is being purchased sight-unseen,” says Rajeh Saadeh, real estate attorney.
How quickly can you buy a house?
The time it takes to buy a home can vary a lot, depending on whether there are competing offers or multiple negotiation stages between the seller and buyer. If everything else goes smoothly, though, the longest stage of the home buying process is closing the mortgage. This usually takes around 30 days.
Do I need a real estate agent to buy a home sight unseen?
No, you don’t need a real estate agent to purchase a home sight unseen. “But it is prudent to use an agent to purchase a home. You can benefit from this person’s expertise in terms of valuation, deal points, and guidance through the entire transaction,” recommends Charles Gallagher, real estate attorney.
It’s especially helpful to have a professional on your side if you can’t see the home in person, or if you’re a first time home buyer without much experience in real estate.
Should I buy a home sight unseen?
The answer depends on your risk tolerance and the degree to which you perform due diligence on the property.
Purchasing a home sight unseen can help you avoid a bidding war and buy your new home more quickly.
“But a sight-unseen purchase increases the odds of an unfavorable outcome for the buyer. You may be saddled with some undisclosed defect that can cost you upwards of tens of thousands of dollars,” says real estate attorney Charles Gallagher.
So take certain precautions. You should have the home professionally inspected, make sure you’re satisfied with the inspection results, and consult closely with your real estate agent or broker throughout the process.
Can I buy a house as-is?
Anyone can purchase a home as-is. This simply means the “seller has no obligation to improve the property or make it better for the buyer,” Rajeh Saadeh explains. If you’re considering a home listed ‘as-is,’ you should be sure to have it inspected before you buy to make sure there are no major issues you’ll end up paying to repair.
Do I have to be physically present at closing?
The answer depends on the state you live in. Some states require in-person notarization. And some lenders require that a buyer sign documents in the presence of a notary.
If you choose a lender that offers ‘e-closings,’ and live in a state that allows remote mortgage closings, then you do not need to be physically present on closing day.
If there is no loan because you’re buying the home with cash, there is no obligation for a buyer, a seller or a closing agent to be in the same room or even building to conclude a closing. “Everything can be done by mail, email, and wire transfer,” real estate attorney Rajeh Saadeh explains.
What can go wrong at closing?
Issues can occur at closing if you no longer qualify for the mortgage you were pre-approved for. This might be the case if you lost your job or had a negative change to your income or credit score between applying and closing. In this case, you’ll need to re-apply and see if you still qualify for financing. If not, the deal can fall through.
Other potential issues at closing include problems discovered with the property’s title, a bank transfer of funds that falls through, or document errors. Consult closely with your mortgage lender, real estate agent, title company, and attorney to avoid these and other problems.
The first step to buying a home
Whether you’re buying a home sight unseen or touring homes the traditional way, the first step in the process remains the same.
You need to get approved for mortgage financing before you can make an offer on any home.
A pre-approval letter verifies your loan amount and your mortgage rate — and it shows the seller your offer is serious. If you hope to move quickly on a home purchase, getting pre-approved first is a must.
Want to bask in the last days of summer by touring beautiful beach houses worth millions of dollars? You can get your fill of sandy eye candy on a new Netflix reality show that just debuted, “Million Dollar Beach House.”
This new series follows real estate agents in some of the most affluent and glamorous beach towns around: an area known as the Hamptons, just a drive (or, for the truly rich, helicopter ride) from New York City. On the show, real estate agents at local brokerage Nest Seekers International spend their days primping posh properties with the hopes that some ultrawealthy buyer will bite.
Yet surprisingly, these multimillion-dollar mansions run up against many of the same problems getting sold as any regular-priced property. As proof, check out this recap of the show’s premiere episode, “Selling Season,” where you can also learn plenty of tips on how to fetch top dollar for your own house, whether it’s on the beach or any old block.
Clutter can obstruct a great view
Michael Fulfree, an agent at Nest Seekers, has a shot at his first big sale: a $6 million listing with stunning beach views. But there’s just one problem: The homeowner, Patti, keeps the house so cluttered that he knows it’ll distract buyers from what’s outside those windows.
“As soon as people walk into that house, I want their eyes to go straight to the water and that’s all they see,” Fulfree says. “But Patti has Buddhas and tchotchkes everywhere. There’s too much going on in that property.”
So he brings in two interior designers to declutter and transform the space. When the designers are done, the place looks much more streamlined—which makes it all the easier to admire the view.
You have to spend money to make money
While home sellers often dream of the money they’ll make when they sell, they often lose sight of the money they should spend to get there.
“People don’t understand how much money gets put into actually selling the property,” Fulfree explains. “I’m willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars. It’s worth it.”
Whether a house needs staging, a new coat of paint, or a repair, Fulfree’s listing serves as a good reminder that sellers should get a listing looking its best before putting it on the market—even if that comes with a hefty price tag.
Sellers should never attend their own open house
Fulfree puts in a lot of effort to make his listing’s open house a success: getting the house to look its best, inviting guests, and creating a fun atmosphere to show off the perks of beachside living.
However, when the homeowner walks in, Fulfree is concerned.
“You don’t want the seller there in the presence of buyers,” Fulfree explains. “It’s almost impossible to make deals.”
And to make things worse, Patti complains that she doesn’t like the staging. As Fulfree explains, “Her negativity could really affect potential buyers.”
Take-home lesson for sellers: It’s best to stay away from your house when potential buyers are touring, either individually or during an open house. Seeing the owner can make it hard for potential buyers to picture themselves living there.
Don’t overprice your property
Meanwhile, real estate agent Noel Roberts is hoping to land his biggest listing yet: a modern mansion he says could be worth $35 million.
However, fellow agent Peggy Zabakolas says this is a bad estimate.
“Part of your job as a real estate broker is to come up with a number that is realistic,” Zabakolas says.
She is right to be wary of overpricing a property. Overpricing could put the property at risk for sitting on the market for a long time with no buyers in sight.
Plus, a high price will give homeowners unrealistic expectations for the sale, and they’ll end up being disappointed when, eventually, the price has to be dropped.
It’s best to choose a fair price that will help the house sell quickly.
The faster you sell, the better
When Fulfree is asked about his timeline for selling his beach house, he says he wants to get the sale done as quickly as possible.
“In real estate, there is no length of time that’s short enough,” he says.
Generally, home sellers will want to find a buyer quickly, too. The longer a home sits on the market, the more the owner will be paying for a mortgage, taxes, HOA fees, and upkeep. The seller may have already moved out by the time a house is on the market, which could mean paying for two homes at once.
So, it’s in everyone’s best interest to sell quickly.
Jonathan from Maryland asked: “You have talked about adding value to an agent. The example you gave was marketing an open house, instead of providing open house flyers. I am not sure how to market an open house since I am used to marketing financing rates and programs to real estate agents and consumers.”
Dave: Interesting that you gave the example of marketing rates and programs in a question about value. It brings us back to an important point regarding value.
Value has to be defined as something your target is interested in–not what you are interested in. Your clients are not interested in mortgages. They are interested in real estate. Your agents are interested in selling real estate.
While I will admit that home loans help purchase real estate, it is not top of mind to their clients. No one says to their spouse on Sunday morning: “Honey, let’s go look for mortgages today.” Now with refinances, they already own a home and the value may be lowering their payments or paying off consumer debt, but that is another matter.
So, the next question is: how do you help agents sell more homes? If they are holding an open house, the more prospects that come to the open, the more likely they will sell that house. But holding opens is not about just selling the house.
Many prospects who visit are not tied to a real estate agent and, therefore, the agent could help them find another home to purchase. Or perhaps they have a home to sell and they are impressed with the agent’s marketing. Now, the agent can pick up a listing.
Going even further, it is not unusual for neighbors to drop into an open house and be interested in selling their own home. Thus, holding opens can lead to a plethora of opportunities for the agent. The more prospects you can help them get to the open, the greater the opportunities that may lie ahead.
My answer is incomplete without some additional specific guidance with regard to the marketing aspect of providing value. It is also interesting that you mentioned you are used to marketing to real estate agents. I say that because many prospects come to an open house either with an agent or because they were directed to the home by an agent. Thus, marketing to agents is very relevant.
For decades, I have been discouraging loan officers from visiting real estate offices with rate sheets and/or doughnuts. Agents are not interested in your rates. They are selling homes. What if you arrived on a Friday with an open house flyer–an event you are sponsoring with one of your top agents? That gives you both credibility and something of value.
Of course, today you don’t need to visit offices to get the word out. You should have an email list of key agents and hopefully this list is loaded into your CRM so you can get the word out at a push of a button. While you are at it, why not email your entire sphere?
Today, the world of social media enables us to reach our sphere and beyond. Posting the flyer is of interest to agents and those who might be interested in purchasing a home–or know others who might be interested.
Even broadcast texting services can be relevant–just provide a link to the flyer and/or a video. The video could be a video of the home or a short message from you with an invite. There are a multitude of ways for you to help the agent market the event, again with the goal of getting more people to the open which is the ultimate value you can provide.
Dave Hershman is Senior VP of Sales of Weichert Financial and the top author in the mortgage industry. Dave has published seven books, as well as hundreds of articles and is the founder of the OriginationPro Marketing System and Mortgage School – the online choice for expert mortgage learning and marketing content. His site is www.OriginationPro.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For many years, Michael Stock said he never considered selling his handsome Beaux-Arts Revival-style home on Washington, D.C.’s prestigious Embassy Row—not even when representatives from a nearby embassy stopped by with a case of wine and an unsolicited bid of interest.
Then the pandemic happened, sending the local luxury real-estate market on an unstoppable hot streak. The rise in prices, combined with the promise of fresh demand spurred by an incoming presidential administration, proved too good to pass up: Mr. Stock listed his home, which he bought in 2008 and spent years restoring, for $5.5 million earlier this month.
Like many other cities whose luxury housing stock is dominated by single-family homes, Washington, D.C.’s market has only benefited from the Covid-19 crisis, as buyers—often spurred by ultralow interest rates plus the desire for dedicated home offices and large gardens—move to larger homes. As a result, the D.C. real-estate market is pricier than it has been in years, according to local agents.
Now, with a new administration taking over the White House, those agents say they are busier than ever. “I’m on meetings and showings all day long,” said Daniel Heider of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, noting that he’s already shown Mr. Stock’s house to a couple relocating to the area to serve in President Joe Biden’s administration.
“We didn’t know where we were going to be when Covid hit in March,” said Robert Hryniewicki, a luxury agent with Washington Fine Properties who said he is currently handling a bidding war for a Massachusetts Avenue Heights property priced at $5.65 million. “But after April, it really took off.”
The median price of a home sold in Washington, D.C., was $641,300 in December, a 1% increase from the same time a year prior, according to data from real-estate firm Long & Foster. The volume of sales was up 16% during that same period. The number of signed contracts in December was 731, up 40% from December 2019.
In December, there were just 1.7 months of housing supply available in Washington, D.C., down 12% from the prior year.
The ultra-high-end saw even more of an uptick. There were 72 transactions priced at $4 million and up in the capitol region in 2020, compared with 53 in 2019, according to Washington Fine Properties. There were eight sales priced at $10 million or more, compared with zero the year before.
Coe Magruder, a 67-year-old hedge-fund and asset-management entrepreneur, is one of the many beneficiaries of the hot market. He sold his Massachusetts Avenue Heights home, a redbrick Colonial formerly home to the embassy of Swaziland (now known as Eswatini), for $4 million in August after receiving an unsolicited offer, he said.
He said he and his wife Denise Magruder had already relocated to Vero Beach, Fla., and were planning to do some work to their home, including a paint job and a redo of the bathrooms, before listing it for sale.
The market wouldn’t wait. Mr. Hryniewicki, the couple’s agent, soon had a client for whom the house was perfect. Mr. Magruder agreed to a single showing and threw in a caveat: The buyer would have to meet the fixed asking price of $4 million, or he would continue with his plans to spruce up the property and list it publicly later.
Within a week, a contract was signed for $4 million. Mr. Hryniewicki said the home sold for a notable premium over what it might have sold for prior to the Covid-19 crisis.
Being home with their two young children amid the pandemic made real-estate developer Michael Rocks and his wife Dana Rocks, who was pregnant with their third child, rethink their space. In November, they listed their four-bedroom Tudor in the leafy Wesley Heights neighborhood to move to a larger home in McLean, Va., where the children could each have their own rooms and a bigger yard.
“Little kids have a lot of energy they need to expend,” said Mr. Rocks, 35, who became a father of three in December. “They want a jungle gym, and since they couldn’t go to the playground we wanted to create something like that for them in our own yard.”
The Rockses hosted one open house and about 12 separate tours and received four offers over their $1.795 million asking price, Mr. Rocks said. “What was shocking to us was how many offers there were,” he added. The house went into contract for $2.022 million just four days after it was listed.
While they reveled in the success of a quick sale, the flip side of the market was trickier; the purchase of their new home in McLean required winning a three-way bidding war. “Everything is just so expensive and in such limited supply,” Mr. Rocks said.
Real-estate agents project the market will become even tighter in the next few months, as Mr. Biden continues to roll out new appointments.
Neighborhoods expected to be especially in demand include fashionable areas like Kalorama and Massachusetts Avenue Heights, which are known for drawing Washington high society, including major political donors, lobbyists and wealthy elected officials, as well as billionaires like Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. In these neighborhoods, a short drive from the Capitol, high-end classic homes are clustered together on tree-lined streets.
Despite for a heavy security presence in some pockets, designed to protect residents like Jared Kushner and first daughter Ivanka Trump, the Kalorama neighborhood was quiet on a recent Sunday. A few walkers with their dogs paid little attention to the security as they passed.
Mr. Stock, 44, leads a nonprofit that trains peacekeepers and military forces in troubled parts of the world. While his home is close to the one owned by President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, he said the security is basically discreet and somewhat reassuring. “You couldn’t find a safer block probably anywhere in the country,” he said. “Sometimes, when there are people over for an event, I don’t lock the door.”
During the last presidential transition, administration officials like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway all bought homes within the same tiny area.
“This current administration threw everyone in the housing market for a loop,” Mr. Heider said. “There were people coming from New York and Palm Beach, who were extremely wealthy and that upper bracket market went on fire,” Mr. Heider said.
It isn’t clear if Mr. Biden’s cabinet will be as affluent, or if those Trump administration officials will leave D.C. following President Trump’s departure; as of now, none of their homes are publicly listed for sale.
As for the recent riot at the Capitol, Mr. Heider said he expects it to have little to no effect on demand for homes.
“Obviously, a breach of the capitol building is not something to brush off, but Washington has been home to protest after protest for decades,” he said, though he noted that the curfews imposed because of the riot were inconvenient for residents. “This summer, there was looting and businesses being set on fire and it didn’t impact the real-estate market. It’s just part of living in Washington.”
You’ve decided to take the first steps to go from renting to buying. Once you’ve stopped window-shopping on real estate sites and decide to see the real thing, open houses are the best low-pressure way to see your potential dream house up close. Worried you don’t have enough experience to tell if a house has good bones and beyond? Consider these open house tips for first-time buyers as you start the process toward becoming a homeowner.
Take a Curbside Look
When you arrive at the open house, don’t get out of the car without taking a good first look. Some pluses and minuses are more obvious than others. How does the roof look? Old? Patchy? Missing shingles? Is there standing water in the front or backyard? These are all big warning signs. How are the sides of the house? Is the siding damaged, sliding off, or missing? What do the neighboring homes look like? Feel free to leave without crossing the threshold.
Don’t Just Look Around—Look Up and Down
As pleasant as it is to enjoy seeing a new home and imagining what it will look like with all your stuff, you need to look closer. Some homes may already be set up with prop furniture, so you need to read between the lines. Check for cracks and stains and evidence of mold. Look beyond the surface by peeking into cupboards, closets, and cabinets too.
Is It Clean? Is It Too Clean?
Every seller, no matter their level of experience, knows that a clean house sells better than a dirty one. When you arrive, you can expect clean walls and floors, but keep an eye out for spackling jobs, newly and randomly applied paint, obvious quickie repair jobs, and any unpleasant odors that somehow rise above the smell of cleaning products. The house may have just received a temporary facelift.
Give the Basement Your Full Attention
Unless they’ve been remodeled, most basements are expected to be a bit dull, dingy, and bland. Don’t be fooled. Numerous basement issues can affect the health of the entire house. Look for foundation cracks; horizontal cracks more than ¾ of an inch wide could mean structural damage to the foundation. If possible, try to see what the basement looks like after a good rain, as some cracks could allow leakage. A damp basement with a strange smell is another red flag.When you’re ready to commit, work with an agent, and place a bid, you’ll need to hire an inspector to give the house a thorough examination. Until then, these open house tips for first-time buyers can help you know when to walk away, right away.
Open houses may be staged to look like a home decor dream, but don’t let that distract you from the real reason you’re there: to potentially buy a home. Make sure you can look past the neatly arranged furniture and focus solely on whether the house would be a good fit for you and your family. To help, here’s a home buyer’s checklist of things you might have missed at first glance.
Windows – Look specifically if they are facing the right direction to let sunlight in, and whether they open to a nice view (versus directly toward another neighbor’s window).
Under the Sink Cabinets – Check for possible signs of water damage due to leaky plumbing.
Electrical Outlets – Make sure there are enough outlets for the appliances and other electronics you’ll be using. If not, you can decide if that’s a renovation you’d like to make.
Storage Space – Don’t just look to see if there’s enough closet space, but look for closet placement. Also check that the storage is in a convenient location.
Appliances – If they’re included in the house, make sure they’re in good condition. They should be on and working while you’re there.
Under the Rugs – Lift up any rugs to check the condition of the floor underneath.
Floor Level – Check to see if the floors are level. Place a marble or another small, round object on the floor and see if it rolls consistently in one direction.
Attic – If the house has one, make sure it’s well insulated.
Water Spouts – Runoff from the gutters should be pointed away from the house, so take a step outside to see if this is the case.
This list isn’t all-inclusive, but it’s a good place to start. Talk to a CENTURY 21 ® agent to see what else he or she might add.