Northern Virginia Real Estate and Community 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
May 17, 2019

Money Pit Or Potential Palace?





Whether you’re looking to buy a house to flip for profit or want to save a little money on a personal home project, there are many things to consider when buying a “fixer-upper”.  


Experts recommend trying to avoid homes that need major renovations or structural changes as your first project, as these homes have a tendency to grow much larger than most people anticipate. Also, once you start digging into the bones of the house you could find the project snowballing into larger problems. You don’t want to get caught throwing good money after bad.   Instead, look for homes needing some sprucing up with cosmetic changes. These are much easier to budget for and much of the work can be self-done, depending on your skillset. Additionally, cosmetic changes generally have a better return on investment.


When assessing a property for purchase you’ll want to bring along an expert, home inspector or real estate agent, to give you a thorough estimate of the property’s value and condition.  The inspector can help you understand how much work will be necessary and find any structural problems you may want to avoid, and the real estate agent will assist in valuing the neighborhood, so you don’t end up overpricing the market.   You don’t want to purchase a $300,000 home that needs $100,000 worth of work in a $300,000 neighborhood.


In Northern Virginia even fixer-uppers are in demand so don’t assume you’ll have your pick of properties, you will most likely have to compete for what you want.  And, because of the hot market, you’ll want to have your renovation estimates done before making any offers as sellers may not accept any inspection contingencies.  But, be careful the competition doesn’t force you into a financially bad situation.


When determining your offering price, you’ll want to estimate all labor and material costs for the renovation.  Experts recommend estimating on the high side with an additional 5 to 10 percent for unforeseen problems and factoring this into the home’s future estimated value.  You’ll also want to factor in the extra time unforeseen problems will take. Time is money!


Here's another side note on using contractors to renovate your "potential palace."


In talks of finances, depending on the condition of the property you may run into difficulty securing a loan.  You also may not be able secure a loan for the renovation costs. There are a few government mortgage programs for renovation properties, so do your homework and have your financing lined up in advance.  Or, if at all possible, remember, Cash is King.


Buying a fixer-upper is a great way to save money on a home purchase and the rewards can be significant.   Buy wisely, buy cautiously and use the advice of experts to guide you and your decision. And, as always, I am here to help you along the “fixer-upper” journey.


Robin Butler,

Your friend in the real estate business.








April 30, 2019

Tips for Visiting Open Houses

If you're looking for a new home, chances are you plan to do some open houses this weekend. It can get really overwhelming if you don't have a strategy. Check out my video below for tips on tackling the open houses without your brain exploding from overload in the process. 


Tips_on_Open_Houses from Robin Butler on Vimeo.


As always, feel free to contact me if you need some assistance making decisions. I'm happy to be your friend in the real estate business.

Robin Butler



Posted in Buying a Home
April 24, 2019

Over the river and through the woods...or just the backyard…to grandmother’s house we go!

Over the river and through the woods...or just the backyard…to grandmother’s house we go!

Granny pods are the trend of the year.


Are your parents getting close to the age where you’d feel more comfortable with them out of their BIG overwhelming home but they are still too independent for an assisted living facility?  The age where you’d like them closer, but you all agree the guest room may be a bit too close? Maybe you can think about meeting somewhere in the middle. Or more accurately the back, as in the backyard.  


A trend that has been growing the last decade is the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), also referred to as Granny Pods.  ADUs are a second residential structure on your property, either by converting an existing structure, such as a garage or shed, or building a new freestanding tiny house.  As with most things in life, the laws vary by locality, but because of the popularity of ADUs, many areas are beginning to adapt their laws to the will of the people. As always, if you think this is a path you may go down do your due diligence prior to making any commitments.  


After researching the laws the next step would be to go through the pros and cons of this idea.  Your property taxes will go up, your utilities will go up, and of course, there is the initial cost involved.  On the flip side ADUs, when used for your parents, could be less expensive than an assisted living facility, and when it is no longer needed for that purpose it could be rented out as a source of income (definitely check your local statutes on this one).    And of course, as with any home improvement project, resale will be affected. Though it's difficult to determine if that will be a pro or a con, as that typically comes down to the buyer.


ADUs, specifically for aging parents, have been criticized as simply a “storage unit” for grandma, while others have embraced the concept as a viable alternative to nursing homes.  One man who not only embraced but went all in on it is Rev. Kenneth Duplin who founded N2Care.  He worked with a team from Virginia Tech at their Blacksburg, VA research facility to come up with a prefabricated unit known as the MEDCottage.

(Roanoke Times)     (The Beacon)


N2Care offers a variety of units that can be bought, or in some places (such as Virginia), can be rented.   Renting the unit is a good alternative if you like the idea but don’t want a permanent structure, and some laws have been adapted to only allow temporary units.  The other benefit of the MEDCottage is that they can be adapted to your needs by including built-in utilities for different medical devices and monitoring equipment, and various handrails and ramps--for the added peace of mind.


There’s a lot to consider when you begin to move down this road, but it’s nice to know there are so many different avenues available to take.


As always I am here to answer your real estate needs.


Robin Butler, Your friend in the real estate business.