Buying In Reston

3 Tips to Getting a Great Appraisal for Your Home

Appearance matters when it comes to selling your home. I’ve heard so many stories of people’s appraisals coming in significantly lower than comps in the neighborhood would suggest simply because the lawn hadn’t been mown and the house needed a fresh coat of paint.

It may not seem necessary to spruce up the house for an appraisal, especially if you managed to get a good contract on it without doing those things. But you need to remember appraisers are people, and they are just as influenced by physical appearances as buyers are. Your house has to look it’s best when the appraiser comes through lest they appraise the property much lower than it’s worth. For a small investment, you can make sure your deal doesn’t fall through based on a bad appraisal.

Here are three tips to getting a great appraisal for your home.

1. Address the curb appeal.

The appraisal starts the moment the appraiser sees you home. Make sure the exterior of your house looks good — mow the lawn, do some weeding and lay down fresh mulch. If your home needs a good power washing, do it. Many Reston homes tend to collect algae on the roofs (a downside of the wooded communities); it looks awful and is easy to clean.

2. Make it Look Its Best.

It’s important to keep the look, feel, and condition of your property as updated and cared-for as possible. While the appraiser probably won’t look under your couch for dust bunnies, she will look at overall how clean the home is. That means you need to get the cobwebs out of the corners and clean the fingerprints around door handles. Replace the old vinyl floors and wash your windows. All of these things affect the value of your home, and they add up.

This is also a good time to do some of the upgrades you’ve been thinking about. Paint, new carpets, lights, and plumbing fixtures are relatively low cost upgrades that can make a huge difference in your appraisal.

Here is a secret of the trade: appraisers often value houses in $500 increments. Repairs that should be made count against your property. Fixing leaky faucets, stained drywall, and cracked windows all cost less than $500, so you automatically make a return.

3. Make it comfortable and inviting.

Tidy up; don’t make the appraiser trip over toys or have to move furniture. And make sure the temperature is comfortable—not to hot and not too cold. Yes, that really matters! Using you heat or air conditioning is also a tip off that these items are in working order.

These things are all relatively easy, quick fixes that go a long way toward improving the outcome of your appraisal.

Fairway Drive and Hook Road, North Reston, VA

Fairway Drive Reston VirginiaBuilt in the 1960s, the Fairway Drive and Hook Road (which literally hooks off Fairway around the baseball fields and tennis courts) neighborhood in the Lake Anne area of Reston is the perfect spot for anyone who wants to be able to walk to everything. This neighborhood backs up to the Hidden Creek Country Club golf course, and so most of the houses have an amazing view.

With a few exceptions, the single family homes are classic contemporary style, most with three or four bedrooms. The homes are typically two-story, and many have brick exteriors.

The homes on Hook road line only one side of the street. The inner space of the horseshoe houses a baseball diamond for little league, RA tennis courts, and a basketball court provides entertainment all summer. And there is plenty of room to lay out a blanket for a family picnic.

Fairway Drive and Hook Road are a quick walk to Lake Anne Village Center, and just a little further to Reston Town Center. Lake Anne Elementary School is just across the street, making morning walks to school a breeze. This charming, quiet (well, except for little league games) neighborhood is the perfect location for any family that wants to be in the middle of everything but still live in an established neighborhood.

Loving Life at Cabot's Point Cluster In Reston's South Lakes

Reston VA South LakesAh, summer! Imagine wandering out your back door and down to your private dock, where you launch your canoe for a lazy paddle around the lake. Sound perfect? It is. And that dream can become your reality.

Cabot’s Point Cluster in South Reston is a beautiful community of cedar patio homes sitting on Lake Audubon, Reston's largest lake.

Built in the early- to mid-1980s, these townhomes have a distinctive contemporary design with sharp right angles and sun-drenched cedar siding. Rather than the adjoining walls typical of most townhouse developments, two-car garages attach these units. The yards are beautifully landscaped, and common areas provide a wooded setting. The homes have one or two decks and are staggered along winding, narrow cul-de-sacs that give the impression of a small village. Many units have lake views; all have lake access.

Did I mention it’s also private? The neighborhood is so secluded that many people don't realize there are houses back there. And the resident’s like it that way. I’ll tell you how to find it though—you enter from South Lakes Drive, across the street from South Lakes High School.

Cabot’s Point may be close to every activity Reston has to offer (including the Reston Metro station), but for many residents, lazy evenings on the lake are the leisure activity of choice.

Homes don’t often come on the market here, that’s how much the residents love their neighborhood. So if you see one, jump on the opportunity immediately. And then go shopping for a new canoe.

Arbor Glenn Cluster, North Reston

Arbor Glen Cluster Reston VAYes, you can have it all. The privacy of a single-family home; the convenience of a townhome community; and easy access to shopping, schools, and recreation does all exist in one place. And that place is Arbor Glen in North Reston.

The Arbor Glen community of 44 townhomes was built between 1986 and 1988. Privacy was top of mind when Miller & Smith designed these spacious 3 and 4 bedroom homes. The townhouses are arranged in groups of four to six in a “Z” row, which means that each house feels more private—you never look into a neighbor’s house, and the row design minimizes noise from the adjoining homes.

Nestled in a wooded area, the common space is tranquil and beautiful. While the neighborhood may feel secluded, Arbor Glen is less than a five-minute walk to North Point Village Center and Lake Newport pool (Reston’s only Olympic sized pool), and Reston Town Center is less than 2 miles away. While Arbor Glen is right off busy Lake Newport Road, and close to Reston Parkway (only the soccer fields stand between the two), the neighborhood is exceptionally quiet.

Yes, Arbor Glen Cluster in Reston, VA is one of those rare neighborhoods that has it all—lovely architecture, plenty of common space, and privacy. Lot’s of privacy. 

What to Look for on the Final Walkthrough

You’re almost there—it’s closing day on your new home. As exciting as that is, you aren’t done yet. You will need to do one last, very important step. And that is the final walkthrough. While it’s a great opportunity to visualize where to hang your favorite paintings, there is more to it than that. This is your last chance to make sure there are no deal-breaking problems. Whether it’s something as simple as realizing screens are missing from the windows or something as serious as major water damage in the basement, this is the last chance you have to have the previous owners fix it. And in my years as an agent, I have seen it all; and in rare instances, the deal has fallen through as a result.

5 Tips for a Productive Final Walkthrough

It’s important to know what to look for in your final walkthrough. Here are five things you should look for:

  1. Make sure they items that convey are there. If you think the washing machine or the stained glass window are yours, make sure they're still there during the walkthrough. Your purchase agreement should list everything that conveys, so there shouldn’t be any surprises. But double check it. I've seen sellers remove something because they forgot it conveyed.
  2. Conversely, if something is supposed to be gone, make sure it's gone! Assume that anything you see laying around is still going to be there when you move in. If you don't want it, make sure the sellers take it away. I've seen people try to leave broken furniture and all sorts of things.
  3. Make sure the seller has completed any repairs they were responsible for — these should be listed in the purchase agreement. Ask for receipts if the repair isn't something you would necessarily notice on the walkthrough.
  4. Make sure there is no new damage. This can be as simple as a scratch in floor from moving furniture out to a busted pipe (yep, I've seen that on walkthrough). You'll want to discuss costs of repairs for these things at the closing and negotiate the repair costs.
  5. Finally, make sure everything works! Chances are, when you first saw your dream house, you were so excited you didn't methodically walk room to room and test every light switch, close every door, latch every window, and turn on every appliance. It’s not too late. Things break between home inspections and closings, and it's not fun to discover that after you've purchased the house. Make sure you have copies of warranties and owner's manuals for appliances.

 

Fixing What Broke

Keep a list of everything you've found on the final walkthrough. Your agent will help you negotiate getting these items fixed/replaced/corrected with the seller.

Once your walkthrough is complete and there are no deal breakers, do a happy dance to celebrate your new home!

 

Condo fees, really?

From high rises like Midtown at Reston Town Center to garden-style communities like ParcReston to townhomes like Ivy Oak, many of Reston's amazing neighborhoods are condo associations. And that means condo fees... often in addition the Reston Association fees.

One of the most common questions I get when showing condos is what the fees are actually for. This is a great question because when you know how the fees are used, and then you can decide if you believe the monthly condo fee fits into your budget and needs.

Condo fees fund two categories: operating expense and reserve funds. The operating expenses are the monthly costs required for trash, grounds maintenance, and snow removal, administration and condo management. The reserve funds represent the anticipated cost of replacing and repairing common elements of the property like roofs, sidewalks, and elevators. All of these costs are estimated and used as the basis for the monthly condo fee.

For the reserve fund, the condo association must do a study every five years to estimate how much money is needed to repair, replacement and restoring the capital components of the property. Every year condominiums (in Virginia) are required to review their study results and confirm that they are reserving enough money for these items. Sometimes, they find they aren't because something unexpected happened.

So, what does that mean for you, they buyer? You need to study the condo resale package, which includes the condominium bylaws, rules and regulations, current financial reports, and audited financial reports. Review these carefully with an eye toward spotting potential problems. Questions to ask should include:

  • What do the audited financial statements say about the reserve funds? Are they adequate?
  • What major projects/repairs are anticipated for the upcoming year?
  • What projects were completed in the prior year?

Another thing to consider is what type of condo environment are you looking at? Is there a Doorman, a Concierge? If there is, you will pay higher condo fees for that amenity.

Many of my clients choose condo living simply because they are not responsible for the exterior maintenance -- at not responsible beyond paying their condo fee. If you are one of the thousands of busy professionals that live in Reston, the time you save managing or doing those tasks is well worth the fee itself. 

Is Reston Townhome Living for You?

Golf Course Island ClusterThere is every type of dwelling available in Reston--from single family home to condos, from large to small... and everything in between. Despite the fact I live in a condo, I always associate Reston with townhomes. Perhaps that is because we have such diverse townhome communities--we have close to a 140 separate townhouse clusters. That's a lot.

Many people who move to Reston have never considered living in a townhome. They perceive them as dark and small with little privacy from neighbors. Then they visit some of the townhome communities and change their minds. Our townhome clusters are wildly varied from the comfortable and modest to over-the-top luxurious. Many are on our lakes or golf course. All have beautiful, well-kept common areas.

cedar cove cluster

Cedar Cove cluster in South Reston has garages and access to Lake Audubon!

So is a Reston townhome right for you? Possibly yes. Reston townhomes offer a wide range of housing options for almost every price point. You'll often find neighborhoods that are a combination of young families, singles, or couples who have downsized. It's a wonderful, eclectic mix. And for busy professionals, you have the bonus of a lovely neighborhood that you don't have to care for--your cluster will maintain the common property!

If you've never considered townhome living because you're worried about the size, the light or living in such close proximity, maybe you should reconsider, there is a lot of upside to this housing style. And no place does it as well as Reston.

Sawyer's Cluster, Reston, VA

Reston townhomes make great homes for first-time homebuyers--couples, singles, or growing families--or people who just want to downsize. Sawyer's Cluster in South Reston is a particularly good neighborhood if you're looking for an affordable home in a great area.

This townhome community was built in 1974, and the residents take pride in maintaining this quaint and lovely cluster. The homes are on the modest size--most have around 1,200 square feet of living space, although a few are larger. They feature great basements and assigned parking spaces. The townhomes are mostly two or three bedroom, but there are a few four-bedroom units. Most of them have one and a half baths, although a few have three.

Located off South Lakes Drive in South Reston, Sawyers Cluster has easy access to swimming pools, tennis courts and basketball courts. The short drive to the Toll Road and Reston Metro make trips to Dulles Airport or into DC a breeze. And, of course, the miles of Reston trails, Reston Town Center, and South Lakes Village Center are also close by.

For families looking for an affordable townhome in Reston, Sawyers Cluster is the perfect place.

 

Submitting an Application to the DRB

Working with Reston Association's Design Review Board (DRB) can be intimidating to new home owners, but the process is really very easy--and you are responsible for having your project reviewed and approved. RA's staff and the DRB are more than willing to work with you and your contractor, though. In fact, many contractors that work in Reston are fantastic resources for navigating the design review process--and for designing improvements that the DRB will approve. Ultimately, though, you are responsible for ensuring your property complies with the Design Covenants and Guidelines.

I shared the basic process of working with the DRB in January. This month, I'll take you through submitting your design review application.

One of the biggest reasons an application gets rejected is because the homeowner hasn't provided all of the required information. It may take a while to pull this information together, but it will save time in the long run. If you are confused about any of it, your RA Covenants Advisor is a great resource--call RA (703-435-6530) to connect with your advisor. All of the forms can be found on the RA website.

What the application must include

As a reminder, if you are a member of Reston Association, you need to submit an application to the DRB if you want to make a change to the exterior of your home. If you're renovating your kitchen or bathroom, you don't need to go through this process. However, if it's happening on the outside of your home, here is what the DRB wants to see (taken from the RA website):

  1. A detailed written description of the proposed exterior modification or addition
  2. Scale drawings
  3. A site plan showing size and location of project
  4. Photographs of the existing condition
  5. A brochure, detail sheet, or catalog photo of materials
  6. Estimated project completion date(s) (projects must be started within six (6) months of the date of approval and completed within eighteen (18) months of the date of approval)
  7. The signatures of at least three different property owners adjacent to or within view of the applicant's alteration or improvement.
  8. In addition, if your property is located within a Cluster Association at least one of the signatures must be that of a Cluster Officer.  Please note, the neighbors' acknowledgment is neither an approval nor disapproval of your application.
  9. At the discretion of the DRB, applications that the DRB determines to have a wider impact on the community may be required to provide additional notice beyond the signatory requirements of this provision.

When you're done collecting all of this information, you can drop your application off in person, fax it to 703-673-2040, email it to your Covenants Advisor as an attachment, or mail it to Reston Association:

Reston Association Covenants Administration 12001 Sunrise Valley Drive Reston, VA 20191-3404

After RA receives your application, staff and/or members of the DRB may visit your property, and possibly photograph it, for reference.

That's it for the application. To learn more about the entire application process, visit the RA website.

Appealing a Reston Association DRB Decision

Many of my clients are curious about the whole Reston Association Design Review Process--it's something they really want to understand before buying a home in Reston. In a previous post, I talked about working with Reston Association's Design Review Board. Today, the topic is appealing a DRB decision. And yes, you can do it.

How to Appeal a DRB Decision

To appeal a DRB decision, you must be either the applicant or a registered Affected Party. And the DRB will hear only one appeal of a decision.

To get your appeal heard, you must submit it to the DRB Secretary within 15 days after the notice of a decision has been mailed. If you're filing the appeal as an Affected Party, it must submit it within 7 days after notice of a decision has been mailed. All requests for appeals must be submitted in writing.

After that, the process is that the Secretary will schedule the appeal to the next available full Design Review Board. DRB decisions may be overturned on appeal for either or both of two reasons:

  • If the original reviewer(s) misapplied specific guidelines or DRB-approved cluster standards.
  • If there is new and/or additional design information that was not available to the original reviewer(s).

Typically, the appeal decision becomes the final decision.

For more information on the Design Review process, visit the Reston Association website.