Home Care

5 Tips for Boosting Your Curb Appeal

New door knobWondering when the best time to list your home is? The answer is right now. Fall is actually a great time of year to put your house on the market. It’s not really a matter of when to do it; it’s a matter of what you need to do to prepare.

First impressions matter, so making sure your home has curb appeal is really important. I’ve had many clients refuse to look inside the house simply because they didn’t like the way the outside looked. Here are five things you can do to make your home more appealing to prospective buyers.

  1. Power Wash Your House and Decks
    Over time, your house and deck can start looking grungy. Sometimes a new coat of paint or stain is called for (you should do that every six or seven years), but often a good power washing is more than enough to make your house look brand-spanking new. Your house will look so fresh, you may wonder why you’ve never done this before!
  2. Replace Rotted Wood
    Many of the homes in Reston have wood exteriors and HOA requirements forbid any other type of siding. In our moist climate, wood will sometimes rot—especially around window casings. The good news is that fixing it may not be as costly as you think. Sure it’s not as quick a fix as planting flowers, but it will drastically boost your curb appeal.
  3. Clean the Gutters
    Cleaning the gutters really doesn’t take that long. Whether you do it yourself or pay to have it done, it will help make your house look more inviting. Something about weeds growing out of gutters just looks untidy.
  4. Do Some Landscaping
    Flowers and a nice lawn…boy do they make a house look good. This time of year there are still flowers you can plant, and it’s not expensive. Whether they’re in flower boxes, hanging baskets, or berms, they provide a huge boost to your curb appeal. Planting flowers is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to make a big impact. Then make sure you don’t have any lawn dead spots around your trees. Plant some shade loving flowers or plants around the shady spots (hostas do particularly well here), or just mulch. You will be amazed at how clean and appealing your yard looks with these simple changes.
  5. Upgrade the Hardware on Your Door
    Another super simple upgrade is to change the hardware on your door. Styles change over time, so make sure your door looks current. Swapping out old light fixtures and mailboxes (if you have one by your door) can also add new life to your entrance.

There are many more things you can do to boost your curb appeal, but these five things will drastically improve how your house looks to potential buyers and will make them want to come in and see more.

(Photo credit: Designed by Freepik)

You Can Appeal a DRB Decision

A friend of mine had her Reston Association Design Review Board application denied this week, and she was not very happy about that. I told her not to fret; she can appeal the decision. Here is how:

How to Appeal a DRB Decision

Your rejection letter will indicate why the DRB rejected your project, and indicate what changes you need to show. Once you pull that information together, you can submit it and get in the queue for a meeting.

Good things to know: 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.

You have 15 days after the notice of a decision has been mailed to get your appeal letter to the DRB Secretary. All requests for appeals must be submitted in writing to your covenants advisor.

After 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.

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Getting Your Exterior Project Approved: the DRB

If you’re living in Reston, chances are you are a member of Reston Association. That means if you want to make a change to the exterior of your home, you’ll need the approval of the Reston Association Design Review Board (DRB). A few weeks ago I posted on blog on how to get your exterior project approved.  

The process really isn’t hard, but it still seems to fill people with dread. I’m not sure why. I find working the DRB very easy. I’m not just saying that because I’m on the RA board. For years I have helped my clients (and friends and neighbors) get the changes to their homes approved. I have discovered three simple tips for making the whole process smooth sailing.

1. Don’t assume that what your neighbor did is ok

It is not fun to get a letter from RA saying you’re in violation of design standards, even though your neighbor has the same deck or new windows. In most cases, had the homeowner shown the plans to the DRB, the plans would have been approved with just a minor adjustment — saving the homeowner a lot of money and time in the long run.

The moral is: don't assume because your neighbor has done something that it is okay. If you want to build an addition or make an alteration, contact RA and go through the design review process. The time you spend upfront will save you time and money later.

2. Follow the Process

My second piece of advice for homeowners is to simply follow the process. It can feel slow, but it’s the surest way to get your project approved. The Reston Association website provides very detailed information about what the DRB covers, how to fill out the application, and who to talk to if you have questions. (Hint, it’s your covenants advisor. Call 703-435-6530 to find yours.)

3. Take advantage of the Covenants Advisors

The biggest asset you have in the DRB process is your covenants advisor. They know your neighborhood and what the DRB is looking for. They are a tremendous resource when it comes to planning your alteration/addition. Work with them from the beginning. Some of the things they’ll do for you include:

  • Sending you the guidelines or cluster standards that relate to your project
  • Advising you about the information you will need to provide with your application
  • Explaining how the review process works and what level of review and application will be necessary
  • Giving you an estimate of how long the review process might take for your project

The DRB plays an important role in upholding the design standards that make Reston so unique. I think you’ll find that within the design standards, there is still room for creativity. So enjoy the process — and enjoy the changes to your home!

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How to Get Your Exterior Project Done (or at least approved)

Spring is in the air and people are thinking about all the ways they want to spruce up the outside of their homes. It’s exciting. But in Reston, it may not be fast. If you are part of Reston Association, that plan is going to have to be approved, and it takes time. Here is a primer on the RA Design Review Board application process.

First, this is not something you need to dread. The DRB application procedures are very easy to follow. It just takes a little bit of time. But you will have help along the way: the Covenant’s Advisors are one of Reston homeowners’ greatest resources that nobody knows about. They are here to help make the design review process the easiest part of your renovation project.

DRB application procedures

The Reston Associate website has all the phone numbers and forms you need. Here is a recap of the DRB application procedures.

1. Contact RA to find out who your Covenant’s Advisor is. They’ll meet with you and advise you on your project and everything you’ll need for your application.

2. Submit your application. The application can be found on the RA website. The application includes the following:

  • A detailed written description of the proposed exterior modification or addition
  • Scale drawings
  • A site plan showing the size and location of project
  • Photographs of the existing condition
  • A brochure, detail sheet or catalog photo of materials
  • Estimated project completion date
  • Signatures of at least three different property owners adjacent to or within view of your alteration or improvement. If your property is located within a Cluster Association, at least one of the signatures must be that of a Cluster Officer. 

Bring in or mail your application to the Reston Association.

4. Property Visit
RA staff and/or members of the DRB may visit and possibly photograph your property for reference.

5. Attend the DRB review panel meeting
While not all projects go in front of the DRB review panel, if your project does require it, you should plan on attending the meeting. Your Covenant’s Advisor can you let you know when it’s on the agenda.

Those are the basic steps. If your application is rejected, you can appeal the decision. Or you can revise the plans to meet RA Design Covenants and Guidelines and resubmit your application. However, if you work with your Covenant’s Advisor and follow the RA guidelines, your project should be approved and you are on your way!

What do you have planned? Let me know.

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Go Green! 12 Ways to Have an Environmentally Friendly Home

environmentally friendly homeIs one of your goals for 2016 to reduce your carbon footprint? It's easier than you may think -- and it doesn't have to be a sacrifice. There are so many little steps you can take around the house that add up to big environmental benefits. I've gathered a list of 12 things you can do right now (or implement one a month for the next year). Have fun being green!

 

  1. Clean your refrigerator coils. This will help the refrigerator run more efficiently, and that saves energy. Cleaning the coils isn't something you think about much, but it's not hard. Just pull the refrigerator away from the wall, vacuum the dust out of the coils and wipe with a damp cloth. It will take 10 minutes at most.
  2. Keep your freezer full. A full freezer runs more efficiently than an empty one. You don't have to fill it with ice cubes and frozen dinners. There are a lot of things you can freeze. For example, milk freezes beautifully. So buy a bigger jug of milk, keep what you need and freeze the rest in mason jars. Rice also freezes well. I cook up large batches and then freeze single servings for when I need them.
  3. Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins at dinner. They're prettier and don't fill up the landfills. And if you're a dainty eater, you may get several uses out of one napkin before you need to wash it.
  4. Change out your light bulbs to light-emitting diodes (LEDs). They use less energy and last longer. Yes, they are expensive. But they are worth it. 
  5. Cold this winter? Before you turn up the heat, try layering. An extra sweater or a fuzzy blanket will keep you warm and cozy... and save on your energy bill.
  6. If you need to buy a new appliance this year, make it an Energy Star-qualified one. Even if they cost a little more, they'll save you on your electricity bill in the long run.
  7. Stop using disposable roasting and baking pans. Sure they're convenient, but they're expensive in the long run and create waste. You can get a nice roasting pan for around $15. And a bonus--they are much sturdier. Taking the turkey out of the oven is much easier! 
  8. Repair leaky faucets and toilets. It is staggering how much water you waste with a small leak. A friend who let a running toilet run for a few months was a little shocked when her water bill came--it really adds up. Also, it's a good idea to install water-saving toilets and shower heads.
  9. Join Dominion's Green Power program and use energy from renewable sources to power your home. It costs a little, but more is worth it.
  10. Stop using your dryer sheets, which are loaded with toxins. A wool ball with a safety pin in it will stop the static cling. You can find all sorts of wool balls on Amazon.com.
  11. Buy a new houseplant. They really do help keep your air cleaner.
  12. Thinking of freshening the paint in your house? Use low or VOC-free paint. Not only is it Earth friendly, it's wallet friendly too.

Bonus tip: Take your own mug to the Lake Anne Coffee Shop (or wherever you get your daily fix) -- some coffee shops will even give you a discount for bringing your own cup. 

See, it's easy to go green. What other tips do you have for an environmentally friendly home?

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Getting Ready for Your Appraisal, Part 2

A few weeks ago I posted some tips for getting your home physically ready for the appraisal. Whether you are selling, refinancing, or looking for a home equity loan, the shape your home is in will make a difference in the home appraisal. But there are a few more things you can do to make the appraiser's job easier.

  1. The appraiser needs to know what kind of improvements you've made. So keep a list of anything you've done in the last 15 years--the date and the approximate cost. It matters whether your air conditioner is 5 years old or 25 years old. Something as seemingly small as replacing a toilet also counts.
  2. Find a plot map of your home. Some HOAs will give you one when you buy your property. The appraiser will go look it up, but they'll appreciate it if they don't have to. Regardless, they need to know your property lines and the actual square footage of the structure.
  3. Find comps and have copies of them. This is also something they'll do, but if you have already done it for them, it helps--especially if it's a recent sale that didn't go through a real estate agent. Those comps can take a while to show up on their databases.
  4. Make a list of all the improvements in the neighborhood, such as the Metro line coming in, a new high-end grocery store, or a recreation center--anything that makes your neighborhood more appealing to buyers. It's unlikely that your appraiser lives in your community, so let them know what a great location you're in!

Once you hand over your helpful information, step back and let the appraiser get to work.

By making your property look it's best and by giving your appraiser the additional information they need to make a good assessment, you will be well positioned to get the highest valuation from your home appraisal.

Beyond the DRB: Renovating in Reston

If you are doing an exterior home improvement project and are a member of Reston Association, you know you need to work the RA Design Review Board. But they aren't the only people who need to be involved. When you're doing an exterior home improvement in Reston, VA, you also need to work with Fairfax County for your permits and be aware of any easements on your property.

Fairfax County Permits

Fairfax County administers structural codes, zoning, types of property use and regulations related to health and safety issues. The County also issues permits, inspects construction and holds bonds. Contact the county before you begin any work to verify what permits are required.

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/buildingpermits/

Easements

Any exterior change to your property needs to accommodate any easements. For example, utility companies have the right of easement for the underground installation, replacement and maintenance of their equipment, supply and transmission lines and drainage facilities, including ingress and egress for such purposes. Your property deed and site plan should indicate any easements that might affect a planned addition or alteration.

Utilities: Virginia makes is easy for you to work with the utilities--just call "Miss Utility" at 811. They'll come out and mark the underground lines.

http://va811.com/homeowners/

County Parks: If you have a property adjacent to Fairfax County Park Authority land (and there is quite a bit in Reston), contact their Planning and Development Division early in the planning phases to make sure everything goes smoothly.

http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/easements.htm

Involving everyone who has a say in your exterior renovation early in the process is the best way to make sure the process goes smoothly. Now that summer is almost here, it's a great time to start making those calls!

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Reston Association design review process

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 3.34.10 PMAs a real estate agent, I frequently have conversations with clients and friends about their home renovation plans. I'm always amazed at the interesting ideas people have for improving their homes. However, almost always the conversation turns to how much they dread going through the Reston Association design review process.

This is not something you need to dread! I promise--the DRB application procedures are very easy to follow. And, if you do need help, it's there for you. The Covenant's Advisors are one of Reston homeowners' greatest resources that nobody knows about. They are here to help make the design review process the easiest part of your renovation project.

DRB application procedures:

The Reston Associate website has all the phone numbers and forms you need. Here is a recap of the DRB application procedures.

1. Contact RA to find out who your Covenant's Advisor is: They'll meet with you and advise you on your project and everything you'll need for your application.

2. Submit your application. The application can be found on the RA website. The application includes the following:

  • A detailed written description of the proposed exterior modification or addition
  • Scale drawings
  • A site plan showing the size and location of project
  • Photographs of the existing condition
  • A brochure, detail sheet or catalog photo of materials
  • Estimated project completion date
  • Signatures of at least three different property owners adjacent to or within view of your alteration or improvement. If your property is located within a Cluster Association, at least one of the signatures must be that of a Cluster Officer.

3. Bring in or mail your application to the Reston Association.

4. Property Visit: RA staff and/or members of the DRB may visit and possibly photograph your property for reference.

5. Attend the DRB review panel meeting: While not all projects go in front of the DRB review panel, if your project does require it, you should plan on attending the meeting. Your Covenant's Advisor can you let you know when it's on the agenda.

Those are the basic steps. If your application is rejected, you can appeal the decision. Or you can revise the plans to meet RA Design Covenants and Guidelines and resubmit your application. However, if you work with your Covenant's Advisor and follow the RA guidelines, your project should be approved and you are on your way!

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Working with Reston Association's Design Review Board

If you're living in Reston, chances are you are a member of Reston Association. That means if you want to make a change to the exterior of your home, you'll need the approval of the Reston Association Design Review Board (DRB).

For some reason, working with the DRB fills many people with dread. I'm not sure why. Working the DRB is really very easy. I'm not just saying that because I'm on the RA board and am DRB Liaison. For years I've helped my clients (and friends and neighbors) work with the DRB. There are three simple tips for making the whole process smooth sailing.

1. Don't assume that what your neighbor did is ok There is no worse surprise than building your deck or adding a few windows only to get a letter from RA saying your in violation of design standards. In most of these situation, had the homeowner shown the plans to the DRB, the plans would have been approved with just a minor adjustment--saving the homeowner a lot of money and misery in the long run.

How can you avoid this mistake? Easy. Don't assume because your neighbor has done something that it is okay. If you want to build an addition or make an alteration, contact RA and go through the design review process. The time you spend upfront will save you time and money later.

2. Follow the Process My second piece of advice for homeowners is to simply follow the process. It's not difficult. The Reston Association website provides very detailed information about what the DRB covers, how to fill out the application, and who to talk to if you have questions. (Hint, it's your covenants advisor. Call (703) 435-6530 to find yours.)

3. Take advantage of the Covenants Advisors Your covenants advisor is a tremendous resource when it comes to planning your alteration/addition. They know what the guidelines are and they know what will or will not get DRB approval. You can save yourself tremendous time and energy by reaching out to them from the beginning. Some of the things they'll do for you include:

  • Sending you the guidelines or cluster standards that relate to your project
  • Advising you about the information you will need to provide with your application
  • Explaining how the review process works and what level of review and application will be necessary
  • Giving you an estimate of how long the review process might take for your project

Working with them is a benefit of RA membership. So use it!

The DRB plays an important role in upholding the design standards that make Reston so unique. Enjoy the process--and enjoy the changes to your home!

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Should you buy a fixer upper?

fixer upperReston is one of those places where people buy a home and then live in it for 50 years. While many houses on the market in Reston have been renovated, at least in the last 15 years, chances are you'll fall in love with a home that needs some work. Since fixer uppers tend to sell for less than a renovated home, the thought of buying one is attractive. I help clients work through the pros and cons of buying a fixer upper every day. And here's what I tell them.

Buying a fixer upper

First, you need to be honest about how much of a project you can take on. If you really don't have the time or desire to do the work yourself, don't buy a house based on doing the work yourself. That's a good way to end up living another 15 years with a kitchen from 1970.

Before you buy, try to get an estimate of how much the renovations will cost you. Talk to friends who have done similar renovations. Or try this free estimator (it's basic, but it's a place to start) You may find that they add up to the difference between the fixer upper and a renovated home. Of course, for someone who'd like to have work done exactly how they'd like it, that might not matter.

When to consider a fixer upper

  • You've always wanted a specific type of kitchen, bathroom, deck, etc (maybe you dream of Viking appliances and granite counters). This is a great opportunity to spend a little less on the purchase of your home and funnel that extra money into getting what you really want.
  • When the repairs are actually very superficial. It can be hard to imagine how wonderful your living room is if it's painted a color you hate or has unappealing wall paper. But paint is a simple fix and it will change the look of your whole house.
  • When the structure is good, and things just need an overhaul. If the kitchen layout works for you and the cabinets are in good condition, getting new appliances, counters, and painting is easy...and well worth the effort to freshen the house.
  • If this is your dream house in your dream neighborhood. If you really love this house, then you should live in it!

Know when to walk away (or at least consider it)

There are some fixer upper scenarios that you really shouldn't take on.

  • A bad roof or ancient heating/air conditioning systems: Both of these are very expensive repairs. If the house you want needs a new ones, negotiate that you're your price.
  • Foundation issues: If you've got a bad foundation, it is very time consuming to fix it. Your home inspection will turn up any problems and if it does, consider very carefully if you love the house enough to deal with the headache.
  • Old electrical systems: Older homes can have faulty wiring and electrical panels that could pose a risk of electrical fire. Your home inspection will reveal whether this is an issue to consider.

My advice: avoid structural issues that will cause you headaches for years--and may make it difficult to sell your house later. But other than that, if you really are handy or you have a great contractor, fixer uppers are a great investment.