Northern Virginia Real Estate and Community News

Feb. 16, 2020

Sneaky Expenses First Time Homebuyers Often Overlook



First-time homebuyers in Northern Virginia (and everywhere else) are often seen as frivolous buyers that base their home-buying decisions solely on emotions. While this may be true for some, this cliché need not apply to you. 


By doing your research and talking with the pros, you'll be able to prevent overlooking sneaky expenses. And, you'll be well on your path to being a financially prepared and educated homeowner. 

 If You’re New to the Home Buying Process, Be Ready For These Expenses

Maintenance costs. Most first time homebuyers naively underestimate the cost of maintaining their beautiful home. Budgeting for maintenance costs is necessary. Firstly, because you must be able to pay for emergency costs promptly if they occur. And secondly, to maintain your home's value.

  • Homeownership is an unpredictable ride. In fact, the only thing that is certain about homeownership is that you'll have a mortgage payment due each month. What will you do if your furnace is nearing its life expectancy, your home's water main bursts or you need to hire a pro to replace shingles? Budget accordingly for these expenses in order to avoid financial pitfalls.
  • It’s suggested that homeowners should budget approximately 1% to 4% of their home's value for yearly maintenance costs. Plus, you can expect higher maintenance costs if you have dogs or two or more children.


Avoid underestimating your down payment. With all of the talk about down payments, it can be confusing to set aside the right amount. It's best to avoid loan programs that offer a "no money down" option. While you won't have to place a down payment on the home, your interest rate will be exorbitant and you’ll incur other costs as well. 

  • If borrowing from a program that isn't in compliance with the FHA, try to set aside 20% of the purchase price for your down payment. Though 10%, and in some instances, even 5% will suffice, you'll incur the cost of PMI. 
  • PMI is an acronym for Private Mortgage Insurance. Lending institutions require buyers who provide a down payment of less than 20% to purchase PMI insurance and pay it off monthly in addition to their mortgage.
  • For example, if you purchase a home worth $150,000 and you put down only $4,500 (3%), you'll need to purchase PMI insurance to cover the missing 17% of the down payment. In this case, the monthly PMI would amount to $118.82, in addition to your mortgage payment.

Remember your closing costs. The number of novice buyers that tend to underestimate the amount needed for closing costs is astounding. Generally, closing costs will amount to approximately 3% of the purchase price of the home. However, the cost may vary. 

  • The most important fees that are included in closing costs are legal fees, lender fees, transfer taxes, and title policies. However, there are several other costs associated with closing on a home you intend to purchase.
  • Employing the services of an experienced local realtor will not only help you accurately estimate your closing costs. But, your realtor will also be able to guide you toward vendors with the lowest fees (such as banks, lawyers, and more). 
  • It’s becoming increasingly common to negotiate into your contract that a percentage of the closing costs are to be paid by the seller. In some instances, the seller will be willing to pay all of your closing costs.


Much like getting married and starting a family, purchasing your first home is a rite of passage. It isn't uncommon for homebuyers to get themselves into trouble by overextending themselves financially or choosing a home that isn't right for them. 


Make the most of this joyous moment by ensuring that you're aware of all of the expenses you'll incur as a homeowner, and budgeting accordingly. If the expenses are simply too high to handle at this time, there's no shame in waiting until you're financially ready; it's the responsible thing to do.


If you have questions or are ready to get started, give me a call. 


As always, I’m here to help answer any questions you may have.

Robin Butler,

“Your Friend In The Real Estate Business.”

Remax Gateway




Posted in Buying a Home
Jan. 27, 2020

First Things First


Clean the carpets, landscape the yard, paint the house (inside and out), update the seems like selling your home comes with a never-ending and daunting to-do list.   But, the number one item on that list should visit a Real Estate Agent.  As with any sort of planning for the future, a visit with an expert should always be first.  

 Most likely you will have a pretty long to-do list, but an agent can help you prioritize.  And it’s possible that your list won’t be as long as you’re anticipating. For example, if you’re in a hot-market then you may not have to work too hard to attract buyers.  Buyers may overlook small fixes once they start getting desperate to buy.  

 An agent will also be able to tell you which upgrades most buyers are or are not willing to pay for.   It will be important to know what your home is currently worth and whether or not upgrades will outprice your neighborhood.  It’s true that kitchens and bathrooms sell homes, but that doesn’t mean you have to go crazy with a renovation. Sometimes small, simple fixes are enough and knowing the comparable home prices in the neighborhood is a great place to start.  

 Another thing an agent will help you prepare for is time on the market. Are you preparing to move at the end of the school year, because you’re retiring and ready to downsize, or expanding your family and ready to upsize?  Ideally, you want your home to sell as quickly as possible, and while timing the market can be difficult, an agent should be able to help you understand the trends in your area and the competition you’ll be facing. This should help give you some understanding of how long selling your home will take.

 Are you planning to buy and sell at the same time?  An agent will help you better plan for that also. You’ll need to know if you’re in a Buyer’s Market or a Seller’s Market. This is important to understand so you know what type of contingencies to place on the transaction. In a seller’s market, you may sell faster than you can buy, so you may want to ask your buyer to sign a ‘rent-back agreement’.   While in a buyer’s market you may buy faster than you can sell, so you’ll need to give an offer on the contingent of selling your home first.

 Selling your home in the coming year will be a daunting task with plenty of to-dos, but with the help of an experienced agent, you can breathe a little easier.  


As always, I’m here to help answer any questions you may have.

Robin Butler,

“Your Friend In The Real Estate Business.”

Remax Gateway



Posted in Selling Your Home
Jan. 18, 2020

2020 Real Estate Trends

What's up in 2020 Real Estate?

Let's take a look.


2020 Real Estate Trends1 from Robin Butler on Vimeo.

Posted in Real Estate News
Dec. 19, 2019

When Convenience Doesn't Pay.


Online Home Buying May be Convenient But is it Cost-Effective




Every year it seems the attention span of the average person gets shorter and shorter.  It’s an unfortunate side effect of technology getting better and better. People seek out convenience gadgets that can help them finish their tasks more quickly, so they can move on to the next.   For example, you can hang a gadget in the shower to clean it for you or you can buy a vacuum that does all the work itself. And then there are convenience services that can help you move through your day faster, like ordering your groceries online and having them delivered.   These examples are helpful, but are all convenience technologies really beneficial?


A growing trend in real estate is that of iBuyer (Opendoor, Zillow Offers, and Redfin).  iBuyer companies work directly with consumers to buy and sell homes while, in most cases, cutting out the Agent middleman.  Most will offer a cash sum, buy the house as-is (assuming it’s not a fixer-upper), and the closing will be within a few weeks.  Fast, convenient, and stress-free.  


But, is it worth it?


That you need to sell fast and don’t want the hassle of home showings or repairs?  Then maybe this path is worth it for you.  


They do come with their negatives though.

These companies make their profits from buying low, so chances are you won’t net as much as you would have if you’d used a traditional agent.  A side effect of this practice is that they lower the neighborhood comparables. I wonder how your neighbors would feel about that?

While you may not be responsible for repairs upfront if there is work to be done, as determined by the company’s inspector, the sale price will be adjusted down.  Leaving you even less profit. 

Another negative is for the local economy.  Because these are national companies that use outside vendors there isn’t much investment back into the local economy.  

And, while you may think you’re saving money by cutting out the agent’s commission, the fees these companies charge can vary from 6% to 11%.  So you may end up paying more on top of netting less.

So is it for you? 

Only you can be the judge of that, but there are a few other things to keep in mind.

iBuyer companies aren’t everywhere, making up only .3% of overall sales in the US, but they are growing, in some areas faster than others.  And not all homes are eligible, they generally want homes that are livable with a minor amount of work needed.  

Watch out for fraud.  Any business model that grows rapidly leaves gaps for scammers to take advantage.  Do your research to make sure you’re working with a reputable company.  

And, as always do your due diligence on all costs before signing on any dotted lines.   


So, fast, convenient, and stress-free?  Maybe

Financially beneficial?  Maybe not.


Robin Butler,

“Your Friend In The Real Estate Business.”























Posted in Selling Your Home
Nov. 26, 2019

Home For The Holidays


The holidays can be a stressful time, especially if it’s your year to host the festivities.  Don’t let that stress overshadow the enjoyment you should get from the time spent with family and friends.  Here are a few things that can help make the day go more smoothly.

  1. Prepare food ahead of time.  Bake the pies, mash the potatoes, prepare the stuffing, and buy ready-to-bake cookies.  Anything you can do ahead of time to cut down on the work you have to do on the holiday will be time well spent.
  2. Prepare the environment ahead of time.  Set the table, make the place settings, and make the centerpieces.  This is your holiday too, don’t waste it on the little details.
  3. Make your list and check it twice.  Don’t lose out on family time because you have to run out to get more ice.  Or, even worse, toilet paper.
  4. Make things convenient for your guests.  Not everyone has the same entertaining space, but if possible, clean out the entry closet or buy a coat rack so your guests don’t have to dig out their coats at the end of the night.  
  5. Ask for help.  These people are your family and friends, they are there as much to spend time with you as to eat your food.  You don’t have to be Superhost.  

Hosting the big day is stressful enough, but if some of those guests aren’t leaving, it can be even more daunting.  While many of the above tips can be applied to hosting overnight guests, there are a few more to help make their stay more enjoyable.  For all of you! 

  1. Stock the pantry.  Ask your guests their preferred breakfast and snack foods and then allow them to help themselves.  You want them to be comfortable and not feel the need to ask you for a drink of water.
  2. Prepare their guest space.  If they will have their own room then make space in the closet or dresser so they can unpack and relax.  Make sure the room has an alarm clock, a table lamp, and other amenities that they may need. Set aside some clean towels and other toiletries for their use.  And, if you’re feeling especially hospitable, leave a welcome note. Of course, not everyone has an extra bedroom so if they are sleeping in a common area you’ll want to make it as much “theirs” as you can.  Possibly rearrange the furniture to seclude their spot. Make space in a hall closet, your bedroom, or the bathroom for their belongings. And be courteous of their sleeping time.
  3. Ask them for their agenda.  They may have other friends and family to visit while they are in town, don’t expect them to spend all their time with you.  Plus, knowing their plans will help you better set your own.  
  4. Tell them your rules.  Whether it’s “No Smoking” or “Don’t eat my yogurt”, be honest and lay it all out for them beforehand.  
  5. Schedule ME time.  You need some time when you aren’t ‘on’.  If they don’t have any outside plans make some suggestions to help get them out, so you have some alone time to breathe.

And, if you happen to be the guest this year many of these suggestions apply to you, in reverse.

  1. Don’t expect to be constantly entertained.  Schedule some activities for yourself to give your guests time to relax.
  2. Bring some of your own supplies.  Many things are too difficult to travel with, but you can fit toothpaste in your suitcase.
  3. Don’t eat everything in sight.  Hopefully, your host has stocked some of your favorites, but there is nothing stopping you from running out and buying a few of your own.
  4. Be considerate of their space.  Keep your belongings under control and organized.  And don’t take over their space by monopolizing the television or computer.  
  5. Leave a Thank You.  And maybe a gift card to their favorite restaurant, or possibly their grocery store to make up for what you used.  

So many of the stresses people feel during the holidays are self-inflicted.  Give yourself a break and enjoy the time you have with your family and friends.  And recognize they are probably feeling stressed too, so don’t add to it.


Enjoy the Joy.

Robin Butler,

“Your Friend In The Real Estate Business.”




Posted in Community News
Oct. 18, 2019

Fall for Some Fun Around NOVA



There is still some time left to get outside for Fall Fun around Northern Virginia, with most pumpkin patches staying open through the first weekend of November.  All locations offer a lot of family-friendly fun, from corn mazes and hayrides to pumpkin patches and petting zoos.  

Here are a few fun things we found to do locally:


Cox Farms in Centreville

Open Daily from 10 am to 6 pm (5 pm in November)

Fields of Fear open Friday and Saturday nights 7:30-11

**Unique to Cox Farms is Foamhenge, the lifesized replica of  Stonehenge made entirely of styrofoam.

From November 29-December 23 they open Christmas at the Corner Market

Reston Farm Market in Reston

Open Daily from 10 am to 6 pm (5 pm on Sundays)


Corn Maze in the Plains  

Open Weekends 10 am to 10 pm (6 pm on Sundays)


Pumpkin Village at Leesburg Animal Park

Open Daily from 9:30 am to 5 pm (6 pm on weekends)


Amazing Farm Fun at Ticonderoga in Chantilly

Open Daily from 10 am to 5 pm (6 pm on weekends)


Belvedere Plantation in Fredericksburg

Open Tuesday -Friday from 10 am to 2 pm   

Fridays 5 pm to 10 pm

Saturdays 10 am to 10 pm

Sundays 10 am to 6 pm


Temple Hall in Leesburg 

Weekends 10 am to 5 pm

Monday, October 28, 10 am to 5 pm

Monday, November 4, 10 am to 5 pm

Tuesday, November 5, 10 am to 5 pm

If enjoying the ambiance of nature is more your style, there is also still some time to get out and view the beautiful fall colors before the trees drop their leaves.  According to the Fall Foliage Report peak fall color will be late October-Early November.  Here are 9 great spots around Fairfax County to view the changing of the season.


And, if a Sunday drive sounds like something more your speed, there are plenty of scenic drives to check out, one of which is Snickersville Turnpike in Louden County.  It’s about an hour’s drive and offers plenty of scenery, historic stops, three small towns with classic general stores, and in Bluemont, you can relax at Bluemont Vineyards, or Dirt Farm Brewing if beer is more to your taste.   


Are you still reading this? What are you waiting for? Grab a jacket and a thermos of coffee and get out there and enjoy the scenery. 

Robin Butler,

Your friend in the real estate business. 




Posted in Community Events
Sept. 14, 2019

Why Buyers May Not Like Your House.

Not many houses languish on the Northern Virginia home market, but there are a few reasons why it may be taking longer to sell than you expected.  Most of these problems are easy to fix if you’re willing to invest the time and money. Unfortunately, the longer it sits on the market, the more it turns off potential buyers so you will want to get on these fixes fast.  


First and foremost make sure you are pricing the home right.  The most common mistake sellers make is trying to go for the big bucks.  Listen to your realtor; they know what they are doing and will be able to determine the fair market value for your neighborhood.


Now that the price is right you want to entice buyers with professional pictures.  Most buyers will start their search online, so you want to make sure they see high quality, well-done pictures.  But, while you want great-looking photos you also want to make sure they are realistic. You don’t want potential buyers to show up and feel as though you’ve tricked them.


What’s in those photos?  With your home itself, the first thing you should address is the curb appeal.  Make sure your home and landscaping are clean, well-maintained, and sculpted. And, if at all possible, make sure the neighbor’s yard is also clean (easier said than done).  Putting in a few weekends of painting, mowing, weeding, planting, and mulching can really help to draw people in.  


And once they step inside you don’t want them disappointed, so make sure the inside is as clean and decluttered as the outside.  And, if pets or smokers live in the house, don’t forget to include removing odors on your to-do list. Have the carpets, drapes, and even furniture cleaned.  And, if possible, remove the pets, and all pet toys and dishes, when showing the home. I realize this may be difficult, but you don’t want a potential buyer worrying about unknown pet stains.  


Now that you know the buyers aren’t distracted, you want them to be able to picture themselves in the home.  And a good way to accomplish this is to make sure the walls are a neutral color. That neon green bathroom might perfectly fit your personality, but a new owner may only see too much hassle to bother.  


Unfortunately, some fixes may require a little more than simple elbow grease.  


Many of those fixtures/features that drew you in when you bought the house have since gone out of style.  Today more buyers are expecting wood floors, not wall to wall carpeting. Shiny brass fixtures, wallpaper, faux crystal faucet handles, and strip vanity lights are also all currently out of style.   One final “out of date” item--popcorn ceilings. This is a change you’ll want to think long and hard over because it is an expensive and messy fix, but necessary.   


If you’re getting ready to put your house on the market your to-do list may have just gotten a little longer.  And while these changes range in difficulty and price level, they can be worth it in the end with, hopefully, a faster sale.    


As always, I am here to help with all your NORTHERN VIRGINIA area home buying questions and needs.  Feel free to give me a call and set up a visit. I’m happy to tour your home and help you create a manageable “to-do” list that makes sense for your situation. 


Robin Butler,

Your friend in the real estate business. 





Posted in Selling Your Home
Aug. 25, 2019

Call Me…. Ohhhh, Call Me

Call Me!

If I don't get your calls, then everything goes wrong.

You’ve found the perfect home...away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  It’s got a little bit of land overlooking a lake, or a prairie, or maybe it has a mountain view.  You pull out your cell phone to call your have to get in and see if the inside is as ideal as the exterior. 




Do you give up your dream home all because it’s in a cell phone dead zone?  


As more people ditch landlines for cell phones, good cell reception at home is a must-have for home buyers.   So what do you do if your new home lives in a dead zone?


The most obvious fix would be to find the cellular provider that provides the best service for your new area.  You can ask around the new neighborhood to find which carrier offers the best service, or you can refer to this map by RootMetrics to help you zoom in to specific areas.  


Of course, not all service problems are due to remote locations. Building materials and surrounding tall buildings or landmarks can also interfere.  There are also other challenges to changing carriers, such as keeping your current phone or phone number. You should be able to, but it’s not guaranteed.  You should consider all these factors before choosing to go this route.


If you decide changing carriers is not the correct path for you, then there are a few technical fixes you can consider.  One solution would be to use your home’s internet connection by enabling WiFi calling. Most major carriers support WiFi calling; however, not all phones, especially older models, are equipped for this feature.  Along these same lines, there are many phone apps, such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger, that allow you to make calls.  Though those can be unreliable if the person you are trying to contact doesn’t use or monitor these apps.


Another option to consider is to buy a passive DAS (distributed antenna system), or signal booster.   A booster works by amplifying an existing signal to extend into the dead zone, which means you have to start with some level of a signal.  These would be useful if your signal doesn’t reach inside or to every part of your home. The downside to this option is the expense of buying and installing the antennas and the lack of network security, as passersby can benefit from your boost.


Finally, you can buy a femtocell, or network extender.  It plugs into your router and uses your internet to boost your signal.  Femtocells are more secure than boosters, but they are carrier specific, and that extends to the carrier used by the person you are contacting.  


Dealing with a dead zone can be an added hurdle to home buying, but there are solutions, so don’t let it deter you from your dream home.  As always, I am here to help with all your home buying questions and needs.  


Call me! (Just not from a dead zone. )


Robin Butler,

Your friend in the real estate business.



Posted in Buying a Home
July 23, 2019

Multigenerational Living In Northern Virginia



Our has a crowd.


And, it’s usually quite loud...


A multigenerational household is defined as including two or more adult generations or including grandparents and grandchildren younger than 25.  And their prevalence is growing -even here in Northern Virginia.


The rates of multigenerational living hit a low of only 12% in the 1980s, but that number has steadily grown to 20% (64 million Americans) today.  There was a sharp increase during the 2007-2009 Great Recession when many Americans lost their homes and were forced to combine households. And while it has slowed back down it is still growing more rapidly than it was before the recession.  Experts can’t point to one single factor for the growing trend but instead, list multiple reasons.  


One factor is that increased life expectancy may make it financially necessary for older Americans to move in with their children rather than into assisted living facilities.  Also, with more women in the workforce having grandparents in-house to help with the child-rearing is a benefit.  


It’s not just parents moving in with their children, in many instances, children are moving back in, or living longer, with their parents.  This could be due to the unsteady job market, rising education debts, and the delay of marriages. Financial security is taking longer for many of the younger generations to reach.  


Another reason is the growing racial diversity of the country.  While there is growth among all demographics, minority Americans and immigrants have a higher percentage of multigenerational living than white Americans.  Some of which may be based on cultural expectations.


Along with the financial benefits to this living arrangement, research shows that grandchildren who are close with their grandparents have less emotional or behavior problems, may be better equipped to deal with life’s stresses and are more respectful of other older people.  Also, when the grandparents feel useful and are more engaged they suffer less from loneliness and depression.  


Hopefully, that will outweigh some of the conflicts that may arise when your parents question your parenting.  


41% of Americans say they are in the market for homes that can accommodate multigenerational families, either to take care of aging parents or to just spend more time together.  And it’s not a one size fits all situation. There are many options if you’re considering multigenerational living. Duplexes, multiplexes, or homes with two master suites. A few months ago I published a blog on this topic about adding a “Granny Pod” to your property.  And, this trend has caught the attention of national home builders who have begun designing homes with multiple family-living in mind, some with completely different living spaces under one roof.  


Multigenerational living is not for everyone, and it comes with plenty of adjustments and compromise, but in the end, the benefits may just outweigh the struggles.


As always, I am here to help with all your home buying needs.  Are you considering a multigenerational living situation? Let's talk about it.

Robin Butler,

Your friend in the real estate business.



Posted in Real Estate News
June 20, 2019

NOVA Staycation

Staycation, all I ever wanted.

  Staycation, don’t have to get away.


Just because we know you are singing that now. . .



Want a summer vacation without the headaches of actually GOING on vacation?  Why not avoid the hotel guest running past your door, or over your head, and just stay home.  There are plenty of vacation activities to enjoy right here in Northern Virginia, and you won’t have to worry about whether or not you packed everything you need.


Start the summer off with some fun outdoor activities.


Great Falls National Park in McLean offers 15 miles of hiking trails, 5 miles of biking trails, and if you’re really feeling adventurous you can kayak the Potomac River. And if you're feeling not so adventurous, the sights are beautiful and the Visitors Center offers a museum, slide shows, and a children’s room.  


Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna offers a more relaxed approach to getting outdoors as you explore the beautiful plants and flowers as well as a few man-made sculptures that are throughout the park. The Gardens also offer various summer camps for kids, but they do fill up fast.


If you need a day for the kids to run off some of their summer energy, Alum Spring Park in Fredericksburg, is a quiet refuge with play equipment and walking paths.  Bring your picnic and make it a fun day out.


Want a little less nature in your outdoor activities?


Last year Money Magazine named Old Town Alexandria the “best value U.S. travel destination”.  Full of restaurants, boutiques, and history, Old Town offers something for everyone.  You can stroll the streets, hop the King Street Trolley, or even see the sights from a water taxi or sightseeing cruise.  And, make sure you save room for dessert as there is definitely no shortage of ice cream shops.


50 Years of Love


This year will be the Summer of Love as we celebrate 50 years of “Virginia is for Lovers”, and the celebration will include plenty of fun summertime activities.  


You can check out Prince William County’s calendar of events

 And Loudoun County events here--Summer of Love


And if you’re past the age of following the Dead on tour, you can follow love around Fairfax County.  Snap your picture with the LOVEwork sign at the various stops as it makes its way to the permanent home in Lorton.  You can follow the travels here---LOVEwork


With so much to do around home why bother packing up the car, finding a dog sitter, and worrying about whether the stove is off.  Stay home, plan a few day trips, and relax.


“Virginia is for Lovers,” and what’s not to love!


Robin Butler, Your friend in the real estate business.



Posted in Community Events