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Blog :: 2011

There goes the neighborhood ... Understanding Cluster Bylaws

When your cluster board won't keep things up...

Living in a townhouse means that you live in very, very close proximity to your neighbors. It also means that what your neighbors do or don't do will have an impact on you and on your home's value.

Spawling Concrete Sidewalk

Spalling Concrete Sidewalk

I recently showed a great townhouse in the Lake Anne area. The place itself was in fairly good shape--it needed some updates but generally it wasn't too bad. What stopped the buyer wasn't that the home needed a new kitchen it was that the areas of the property that are owned in common, the parking lots, sidewalks, retaining walls, large trees and even light poles all needed attention, everything looked under cared for and a little worn.

I started looking more closely; the buyer was right. The asphalt in the parking area was in kind of shabby condition at best, the sidewalks needed power washing, the light poles were peeling, the trees needed trimming and a few significant retaining walls were in bad shape.

The buyer asked me to get information about how the Cluster Board was going to address these issues. The listing agent relayed there was no active plan in place to address any of the issues my buyer identified. End result; the buyer just couldn't get comfortable with the lack of action on obvious maintenance issues and so decided to keep looking.

Neglecting your property has consequences. Next to location, condition is the next single biggest factor in determining if your property will fetch a price at the top of your market range or at the bottom of your market range. When you live in a townhouse this means that it's not only the condition of your home that counts; it's the condition of all of the property you own in common with your neighbors.

So, what do you do when the "powers that be" don't or won't take action to address maintenance issues?

Missing mortar in brick

I think the first thing to do is to read and understand your Cluster Bylaws and to know your Cluster financials. Most Cluster Bylaws state specifically that the Board is directly responsible for maintaining the commonly owned parts of the property in a way that keeps it safe and that maintains and enhances the property values. It's important to know your Cluster financials because if the Board has been under reserving, (not saving enough for repairs, replacement and maintenance), the problem is bigger than just inactivity.

The next thing to do is to get involved. Cluster Boards are notoriously over committed. Volunteer to get bids for work that needs doing, organize a Cluster clean up day, and be willing to participate on committees. Do not just be a person that complains.

And if that doesn't work...

It's time for a Coup. Organize your like minded neighbors, identify candidates and get them elected to the Board. In most communities this isn't too difficult to do. I think that 99% of what doesn't get done is really a function of inertia and a lack of leadership.

You can have a huge positive impact on your community and your property values if you are willing to take on the responsibility and the time it takes to get projects done.

What you will find once you've taken over the reins of power is that it's easy to understand where the inertia comes from. One day you'll find yourself looking at bids from asphalt contractors and you'll realize, "hmmm...I don't actually have any experience with replacing a parking lot" then you'll know why it's so easy to do nothing. When you are seized with anxiety...push past it, your neighbors need you and you won't regret it, well you might regret it but do it anyway.

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The State of Real Estate in Reston

The number one question I'm asked whenever people discover that I'm a real estate agent is "how's business" or" how's the market?"

Everyone it seems is interested home values--some are hoping to revive the daydream of triple digit appreciation, others I'm sure are wondering if their number one asset has stopped losing value.

Property in North Reston

A Home in North Reston

A few years ago when I was trying to decide if I could make a living by focusing my real estate practice exclusively in Reston I ran some numbers that convinced me that focusing on Reston was not only reasonable it was smart. The Reston real estate market is a large, about $400,000,000 in transactions per year. Our market is also diverse with a wide range of housing types.

The most striking feature of today's market is that the inventory is painfully low. There are a total of 164 fully active properties on the market in the 3 Reston zip codes. The 20190 code has 47 active listings, 20191 has 68 active listings and 20194 has 49 active listings. Prices on those 164 listings range from 1,500,000.00 - 125,000.00.

A good time to sell or not?

If you're thinking of selling your property the rules of supply and demand would suggest that now is a great time to sell. Many sellers are seeing a very short number of days on market and are even receiving multiple offers. But, the other striking feature of this market is how price sensitive it is. Sellers that list above market because they think they need "room to negotiate" are seeing their homes sit, and sit, and sit. Sellers that put their property on to the market priced within (or even slightly below), spitting distance of reasonable com-parables are receiving multiple offers.

So--how's the market in Reston? If you're priced right it's great, if you're not it's slow.

Uplands Neighborhood in Reston VA

In a few weeks the Spring Peepers will begin to sing. It's one of the things like fireflies and the Fall colors that remind me how much I have come to love living on the East Coast.

Uplands Neighborhood Map VA

The Uplands area of Reston has a wide range of housing types.

I first heard the little frogs when Rick and I moved with our tribe of daughters to Reston. We lived on Buttermilk Lane in a beautiful modern Bonner home in the Uplands. This area of Reston is bordered Wiehle Avenue and Lake Fairfax Drive at one end and by Baron Cameron and Lake Fairfax Park at the other end.

Family properties in the Uplands Neighborhood

Uplands includes several townhouses clusters and single family homes in a wide variety of types from small ranch styles houses to large contemporary and pretty much everything in between. The neighborhood has a great layout with just two access points; while there is a convenient cut over to Rt. 7 mostly the people driving through the area live there.

The neighborhood boast a great kid oriented pool and a huge recreation area that includes 2 tennis courts, a full sized basket ball court, a baseball diamond, hiking trail along Buttermilk Creek and the huge Winter attraction of sledding on King Kong Hill. Forest Edge Elementary School is there for the educational needs of the little ones.

The Uplands is the quintessential suburban Reston neighborhood. It was ideal for our large family. The safety of the cul-de-sac for learning how to ride a bike, the freedom of letting the kids walk to school and to the pool, for us it was the perfect Reston neighborhood.

Plenty of Nature around too

Like most of Reston the Uplands is beautiful; full of nature with deer and foxes a common sight. The walk along the Buttermilk Creek trail to the back of Lake Fairfax is hushed and wooded; if you walk towards Lake Fairfax park when the first few evenings get warm you'll be rewarded with the sound of the Spring Peppers.


  1. Maggie on

    To this day that sound makes me feel sleepy and happy... instinctively I know Summer Vacation is coming. Ahhh, nostalgia.
    • Susan Rose on

      I grew up in Uplands...your post made me nostalgic for summer days when we would either walk to Lake Anne to buy candy at the Pharmacy or wander along the Buttermilk trail to go explore Lake Fairfax Park. Then when I was a teenager, I just spent my days at the pool. Who needed summer camps when there was so much to do? I loved growing up in that neighborhood!

      A few bad apples ... make us all look bad

      A Bad Apple

      Don't let the few ruin it for all

      It's just sad...we're a hair above used car salesman. The worst thing about it is that by in large--I know the reputation has been earned.

      It's probably always the case that the stinkers are always the ones you hear about--the agents that do it right, that work hard--that really do put your interests ahead of their own, they're boring no one wants to hear about them, but they are out there.

      If you are in the market for an agent here's a list of things that will help you weed out the good from the not so good.

      Full Time Agent

      • Given how tough the market is a lot of agents are not working full time as real estate agents. If you are the person responsible for putting food on the table and making ends meet you gotta' do what you gotta' do; but if you're hiring someone to sell your house you need someone whose head is in the game full time; who can return calls in a timely manner and who can respond as needed. Real Estate is a demand driven business--and mostly it's someone else's demands.

      Technology Savvy

      • While real estate is still a relational business if your agent can't expose your property in a sophisticated technological way, keep looking. Your agent should have a strong web presence in the market that they serve. It should be easy to find your agent online and it should be even easier to find your agent's listings.

      Added Value

      • Competitive pressure should create a higher level of service. We all have to do everything we can to stand out from the crowd. Your agent should be an expert in their market; they should help make your home the very best, most appealing product it can be. That includes
      1. Helping you price it right
      2. Recommending improvements
      3. Offering staging
      4. Producing beautiful print and digital materials
      5. Exposing the property to the broadest possible market and to the appropriate "move up" market,  and pretty much anything else that it takes to get the house soldIf they only offer you a discount in commission--well I guess that's all they have to offer and that's something your should think about.


      • Obviously your agent should be honest but more importantly you and your agent need to have a relationship that is based on the ability to have an open honest exchange of ideas and information--even when the information being relayed doesn't make you happy.  If you have your agent walking on eggshells then you're not going to get the best from your agent. If you feel like you can't trust them then don't hire them.

      It's always surprising to me to see an intensely negative attitude applied to a whole profession--Real Estate is like everything else--if you're  not  satisfied with the service you vote with your feet. Find an agent that merits your business--and be willing to pay for the service.

      I suspect that a big part of the horror story scenarios are in part a function of people seeking the bargain before they understand the level of service that's needed to effectively get the job done...and if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

      Send me your experiences!


      1. Koki on

        As the market tightens the bad apples continue to rot and leave the business. It just makes more room for the "fresh" apples like us :-)
        • Kathy Nosal on

          Nice description of the blend of factors that go into deciding how and who to hire as your real estate agent.
          • Monica Florio on

            Agreed. This will give you some great questions to ask when you look for a Realtor to work with on your next real estate transaction. And if you only focus on finding someone who will work for the lowest commission, you may find yourself working with a "bad apple."

            Retirement in Reston, VA?

            Retire in Reston or move to a 55+ Community?

            Retire in Reston

            Retire in Reston

            A few days ago I received an email from a newly retired person who was trying to decide where to settle.

            He is 72, ready to move out of the larger single family home in Alexandria and move into something that will be less work.  His question to me was simple. "What does Reston have to offer to a person that is entering into this phase of life?" It's an interesting question and, as it turns out Reston has a lot to offer.

            First and foremost being that Reston's original design principles called for people to be able to stay put, meaning people should be able to change housing type as their needs change but not have to leave the community. From a real estate perspective Reston has everything to offer from townhouses to condos to smaller ranch style single family homes that allow you to do the vast majority of your living on one level.

            One natural outgrowth of the design principle that gave us such diversity in housing types is that our amenities have grown and expanded to serve the needs of our evolving population. Reston Association and Reston Community Center have a variety of programs from classes and activities to performing arts that serve the entirety of our population. Reston is also home to an Osher Life Long Learning Institute group that meets at Lake Anne Plaza.

            Kayaking to the Concert on Lake Anne

            Another defining characteristic of Reston is that it has always has been a community of active participation--there is always something to do or to be done. We live in clusters and condos that all have Boards. There's GRACE, the greater Reston Arts Center,  and the Historic Trust, and Reston Association. There are committees for any number of community events that need active support. You can be as involved as you want to be.

            So I think the answer is yes, Reston would be a great place to retire to--I don't know how many of our Seniors came here expressly to retire. I would suspect that most started as younger people that have lived and worked here and are now retiring here.

            We are a community that values our long relationships, but we will welcome new ones as well.


            1. Valasie August on

              Interesting topic especially for me as this will be my 37th year living in Reston. People look to retire out of the town they have lived in most of their life and that has not been my thinking process being a Reston resident. I have to say that is probably because Reston is just not like most other places to live. It really does have something for everyone at each stage of life. And it never has been stagnant. It continues to grow in ways that are relevant. Never thought I would stay in VA having come here from the Northeast. But can't imagine now being anywhere else! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Reston and Retirement...V

              Reston VA Real Estate High~Low

              Reston, VA Real Estate The High~Low Game

              So let me come clean here and admit that the the title this post isn't original. In fact I've, err, um, well lets just say I've borrowed it from another blogger, our own local mystery man (I assume man) blogger, Restonian.

              Of course when he writes about the high and the low of Reston real estate he's full of witticisms that I will not be able to replicate. However I love the idea and would like to offer some insights into the high/low and in between real estate in Reston.

              Reston Town Center

              Reston Town Center - Image by Matthew and Tracie via Flickr

              We are fortunate to have so much diversity in our real estate market. There are 115 properties in between the high and the low--which is a painfully small number of properties On the low end we have a 2 bedroom 2 bath condo listed at $102,500.00, it's a short sale over in South Reston. At the other end of the spectrum is single family home with 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and 2 fire places also in South Reston listed at $1,399,000.

              The inventory in Reston, (yes, inventory is what we real estate agents call your home once we've put it on the market), has been low for the past 18 months. While this lack of inventory usually creates pent up demand, the market is still very price sensitive, leaving properties listed above market value languishing unsold, while appropriately priced properties sell fairly quickly. The average price of these 115 properties is $461,000.00. The housing types include 26 single family home, 47 townhouses and 42 condominiums.

              What does this mean for you?

              If you're a buyer it may seem there's not a lot to choose from, but doing a little home work could make all the difference. Consider focusing on properties that have been on the market for more than 90 days. Have your agent pull comparable listings and make your offer based on the data. Most important: when you find the home you want, don't wait! If it's priced right it won't last. If you feel it's priced too high still-- make your best offer. There's nothing worse than losing "the one" because of inactivity.

              If you are a seller low inventory suggests that the market is in your favor and it is... At least, it could be... If you've cleared away the clutter (including your husband's college beer can collection), put fresh neutral paint on the walls and priced it within spitting distance of the comparable properties in your area. Then you are in good shape and can expect a sale within a fairly short period of time. However, if you add an extra 10 or 15 thousand to the number your agent recommends so that you'll have some "room to negotiate" it's going to be a long winter.

              Bottom line -- when inventory is tight, and the market competitive, all sides are best served by coming well prepared to the high/low real estate game.

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              1. Kate T on

                I am considering downsizing from my single family home to a condo. I'm debating trying to get my house listed ASAP to take advantage of the small pool of houses for sell vs. waiting for the Spring market. Do you think there will be strong increases in property values? I'm in Reston.
                • Eve Thompson LastName on

                  Hi Kate, I think I would focus on making sure that your house is really ready to sell; meaning super clean, de-cluttered, painted if needed, plus current on any miscellaneous repairs or maintenance. My experience is that this takes longer than you imagine. My recommendation to sellers is to go through the house as if you were getting ready to pack it up-- so clean out closets, get rid of old paint cans, the whole nine yards. Today is January 20, 2011 it's 59 days until the first day of Spring, so chances are you will be ready just as we are entering into the Spring market. Unless of course you are one of those rare super organized types. If that's the case I would go ahead and list it now--you might lose on a little bit of appreciation but that will also be true on the property you purchase. The market tends to rise together across property types. Please call me if I can help! Good luck.

                  Get Ready To Buy in 2011

                  News that the Northern Virginia housing market continues to improve with several areas seeing appreciation as high as 8% can only be viewed as positive. The carnage of the ruptured housing bubble that was so clearly visible in many neighborhoods is receding.

                  Trickier to assess is the damage to the credit of former home owners who for whatever reason lost their homes to short sale or foreclosure. Living without enough financial cushion, a lost job, a sick child; things that in the normal course of a life might cause one to decide they should sell their home and live smaller until they were back on their feet, when combined with plummeting home values created a quagmire that dragged many people down the foreclosure/short sale path.

                  Home Ownership Dream

                  Careful management can make it happen for you.

                  In speaking with my lender colleagues the news is not all doom and gloom for a buyer that has a foreclosure/short sale on their credit record. Depending on factors in place at the time of the foreclosure or short sale FHA Loans may still be a viable option. All buyers need to be super mindful of paying their creditors on time, even a few late pays can make a huge impact on your credit score.

                  Like most things in life--time will heal the wounds of housing market and the fall out of a short sale or foreclosure on your credit. Being mindful of due dates and credit balances and saving a reserve fund can help put you in a position to buy in 2011.

                  Waterfront like along a lake