Urban Homeowner

A Peek At My Latest Sale

Every now and then, I like to give my readers a glimpse of what my business looks like on the ground. Here are some photo highlights of the home my buyers closed on yesterday. This property is in the booming H Street/Atlas District neighborhood, and could not be more perfect for this fun-loving, cosmopolitan couple! Take a peek, and give me a shout when you’re ready for me to help you find your fabulous new home!

 

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The spacious, open floor plan is perfect for entertaining!

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The unit is bordered on one side by a wide alley, meaning that the large, gorgeous windows flood the main with light from three sides.

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Now that’s a closet that any urban dweller would envy. And this master suite’s got two of ’em!

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One of my favorite features of this unit is the gorgeous faux-wood ceramic floor on the lower level. That’s right, that beautiful rustic wood floor you’re looking at is actually ceramic!

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Putting together the closing gift is always one of my favorite parts of the process. 😉

A big congratulations to my happy homeowners!

A big congratulations to my happy homeowners!

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Up For Debate: Expanding the Hill’s Historic District

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The Hill Rag reports that meetings, conversations, applications, and red tape are all underway in an attempt to expand the official Historic District on Capitol Hill. The article does a great job of explaining the nitty-gritties of the process and debate, and the photo above does a great job of showing where the current and proposed boundaries are. Not surprisingly, the proposed expansion extends north to H Street and east to the stadium – aka, the parts of the Hill that have recently (in the past 2-4 years) exploded in popularity. There are a lot of details and nuances to this conversation – again, detailed in this Hill Rag article – but if you don’t have the time and/or interest to read through, here are my two biggest takeaways:

Pro-Expansion: Preserve the charm of the Hill neighborhood by preventing an overabundance of the shiny (and often of questionable quality) condo/apartment buildings that have started popping up at a slightly alarming rate.

Anti-Expansion: If you own a home in a Historic District, getting work done on said home is GIANT pain in the tush. Special permits are required that take forever to obtain, the nature of the work that you’re allowed to do on your home can be very limited, and the cost of hiring a contractor with the appropriate skills and training to do your work can be prohibitive.

 

Hot or Not?

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The Washington Post recently reported on the three “hottest” neighborhoods in DC with the help of data from Real Estate Business Intelligence (RBI). And by what measure did they dub them thusly?

“Since there is no singular definition for what makes a neighborhood popular, we looked at a few data points: the number of new listings, the length of time homes are on the market before they sell, and whether the properties sell for more than the original listing price. After crunching all the numbers, it quickly became clear that three distinct D.C. neighborhoods dominate the playing field.”

And the three “winners” are (drumroll please):

Dupont Circle/AdMo (Zip = 20009)
Columbia Heights
Capitol Hill

For more details and a full breakdown on the data, check out the complete article here. 

Clearly, if you own property in one of these neighborhoods, then you should seriously be considering selling. (Unless of course you just bought your place.) But here’s something for my homebuyers out there to chew on. Does the fact that these neighborhoods are so “hot” based on the above-named criteria actually make them good locations for you to be shopping in? Or does this article actually serve as a good list of neighborhoods for you to avoid if you’re not interested in engaging in a bidding war?

Don’t get me wrong, these are all fabulous neighborhoods and I’ve managed to find some great deals for my clients in these areas, even in the midst of the current market madness. I’m just saying that it’s worth reading between the lines a little bit when it comes to big fancy labels like “Hottest Hoods in Town.”

If you own in one of those areas and are thinking about selling, or are thinking about buying and are curious about some of the neighborhoods in town that would make great alternatives to the ones listed above, shoot me an email!

Looking for a Condo on U Street?

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If you’ve been looking in vain for a condo in the U Street area, I’ve got good news for you – a whole bunch of new inventory is about to open up! Sales for The Hatton, at 1921 8th St. NW, will be opening up this fall, and move-ins will start as early as Spring 2015.

The five-story mixed-use building will have 245 condos and 28K sf of retail spread across a single floor.  The units will range from studios to two-bedrooms, and prices will start in the high $300s. There will even be parking! 29 underground spaces. If you’d like more info or want to go take a look when they open up sales, let me know!

Ask Alia: What’s the Deal with Townhouse Values?

Photo montage courtesy Curbed DC

Photo montage courtesy Curbed DC

Check out my monthly “Ask Alia” residential real estate advice segment at Curbed DC! Here’s an excerpt from this week’s post:

I would be interested in your thoughts on how all of the development in the District will affect townhouse prices over the next couple years. Simple economics would suggest that the increase in supply should reduce prices. However, the new housing stock seems to be largely condo/apartments, so townhouses may be a unique market that could appreciate more (relative increase in scarcity to condos). Also, the new development could create even more demand through pure momentum. As someone renting right now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether I should buy a townhouse now or wait for potentially lower relative prices in the future.

I think your analysis is spot-on (are Brits the only ones who can get away with saying that?), but your conclusion could use a tweak. Yes, I do think that the supply of “authentic” (meaning still containing a significant part of the original structure – so not new construction, and not fully gutted and rehabbed) townhomes is decreasing, and I explain why below. But, that means that the pricetags on these townhomes are going to go up, not down. So if you’re looking to take advantage of relatively lower prices, now would be the time to buy, before these townhomes become a rare commodity.

D.C.’s condo inventory is still lower than current demand, so a lot of the new inventory coming on the market consists of condos as developers rush to fill that gap. Also, some new construction is being made to mimic townhomes, or else historic facades are maintained while interiors are gutted and modernized. So, authentic townhomes will be in relatively lower supply as other types of inventory increase, and as more historic properties are gutted and rehabbed, the absolute number of authentic townhomes will decrease, too.

So, does all of that mean that you should buy an authentic townhome now? Well, I definitely think those are good reasons, but they’re just part of the analysis. The fact that mortgage rates are slowly but surely on the rise is another reason why potential buyers should seriously consider making a move sooner rather than later. And above all, the most important consideration is your personal financial situation, and whether it makes sense for you to buy now or wait until your nest egg is a little bit bigger.

Ask Alia: How Can I Tell If My Property Value Has Increased?

Photo montage courtesy Curbed DC

Photo montage courtesy Curbed DC

Check out my monthly “Ask Alia” residential real estate advice segment at Curbed DC! Here’s an excerpt from this week’s post:

How can you tell if your property has increased in value?

There are a couple of simple indicators you can look out for as signs that your property value is increasing. First off, if you’re noticing that “Under Contract” or “Sold” signs are going up very quickly after a house goes on sale, that’s typically a sign that your area is in high demand. Another sign is an increase in your tax bill.

If you simply want to know how much the city (a.k.a. the folks in charge of your tax bill) thinks your property is worth, just go to D.C.’s Real Property Assessment Database and type in your address. The most recent “Total Assessment” (meaning your land value + the value of the structure built on that land) will be in the right-most column. But keep in mind, this number is rarely an accurate reflection of your home’s market value.

If you want to know what someone would actually pay you for your house, your best bet is honestly to contact a realtor. In addition to literally being on the ground every day, realtors have access to market data and statistics that can give you the most accurate snapshot of your home’s current market value at any given time.

Homeowners: Are You Taking All of Your Tax Deductions?

One of the joys of homeownership is the accompanying tax breaks. Do you know what all of them are? Here’s a great article that outlines the various tax breaks that homeowners can qualify for – make sure you know which ones apply to you! Also, note that this list does not include DC-specific tax credits, like the Homestead Exemption. Expect a follow-up post on those soon!

Tax Breaks That Every Homeowner Should Know About

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U.S. tax season officially runs from Jan. 31 to April 15. While several energy-efficient home improvement tax credits recently expired, there are still many tax breaks available to homeowners. Whether you own a single-family home, condo, co-op apartment or mobile home, you may qualify — just be aware that, in most cases, you’ll need to itemize your taxes in order to take advantage of these deductions and credits. Here are a few of the tax breaks you’ll want to check out.

Mortgage interest deduction: In most cases, you can deduct all of your home mortgage interest. How much you can deduct depends on when you took out the mortgage, the amount of the mortgage and how you use mortgage proceeds. You can deduct your home mortgage interest only if your mortgage is a secured debt. Your mortgage is a secured debt if you put your home up as collateral to protect the interests of the lender. You may qualify for a mortgage interest deduction on a loan secured for your primary and second home, even if your second home is a boat or RV with cooking, sleeping and bathroom facilities.

The interest you pay on a mortgage for a third, fourth or fifth home may be deductible if the proceeds of the loan were used for business, investment or other deductible purposes; check with a tax accountant for details.

Deduction of points: If you bought a home in 2013 and paid points in order to obtain your home mortgage, these fees are included on the income tax deductions list and can be deducted. If you refinanced your home, these points are still deductible, but it must be done over the life of the mortgage.

Exclusion on sales gains: If you sold a home in 2013, you may qualify for an exclusion on the net sales gain (selling price minus purchase price plus improvements) of up to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for a couple. This exclusion requires that the home was used as your personal residence for two of the past five years. Things become more complicated if you lived in the house, moved out and then moved back in; be sure to consult a tax professional to see if you qualify for a partial exclusion.

Deduction of property taxes: You can deduct your state and local property taxes, as long as they are based on the assessed value of the real property. If you pay your property taxes out-of-pocket, you need to locate your bills to determine how much you paid.

If your money is being held in escrow for the purpose of paying property taxes, you cannot claim this deduction until the money is actually taken out of escrow and paid. If you receive a partial refund of your property tax, the amount of the deduction you can claim will be reduced.

Mortgage insurance deduction: Mortgage insurance provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is commonly known as a funding fee; if provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, it’s referred to as a guarantee fee. The funding fee or guarantee fee can be included in the amount of your home loan or paid in full at the time of closing. These fees can be deducted fully in tax year 2013 if the mortgage insurance contract was issued in 2013.

If you pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, that’s a cost you probably won’t be able to deduct — unless you meet the requirements of a special PMI law that allows deductions of PMI payments on loans originated or refinanced between Jan. 1, 2007, and Dec. 31, 2013, and that meet certain loan amount limits.

Home office deduction: Beginning in tax year 2013, taxpayers may use a simplified option when figuring the deduction for business use of their home. Both homeowners and renters can take advantage of this deduction, as long as the space serves as your principal place of business and is regularly and exclusively used for business purposes. You’re entitled to a deduction of $5 per square foot of the home used for business, up to 300 square feet.

If the simplified option doesn’t appeal to you, you may still use the regular method (required for tax years 2012 and prior) and determine the actual expenses of your home office: mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, repairs and depreciation. If you use the regular method, deductions for a home office are based on the percentage of your home devoted to business use.

Energy-savings deductions: If you installed a geothermal heat pump, small wind turbine or solar energy system in your home in 2013, you may be able to claim a tax credit for up to 30 percent of the cost of installation. The credit has no upper limit and applies to both existing homes and new construction, but not to rental properties. This credit runs through the end of 2016.

You can also get a credit of up to 30 percent of the cost of residential fuel cells, up to $500 per 0.5 kilowatt of power capacity. This credit also expires Dec. 31, 2016.

Clergy, military housing allowance: Ministers and members of the U.S. armed services who receive a housing allowance that is not taxable can deduct their real estate taxes and home mortgage. Even better news? You don’t have to reduce your deductions by your nontaxable allowance.