Webinar: Buying and Selling in a Competitive Market
by Lizann Lightfoot - November 8th, 2021
Our Guest: John Montemayor. He’s a Century 21 Real Estate Agent, and a retired Marine. He served 27 years in the USMC, and PCSed over 17 times!
I’ve had those PCS experiences, and I think my wife did four of those moves by herself, so I know what that experience is for the spouse to do this alone without their service member. I know the D.C. area well, after several tours at the Pentagon and in Quantico. Then I transferred over to real estate, and I love our team with Fairway Mortgage. With a real estate agent that is really supporting you 24/7, if makes sure that the buyer has all the details they need to make a good decision. I came over because another Marine was doing real estate and decided to put together a team of retired military, so I have met great people working in various markets. I help service members get into a home at the price they want or can sell a home at the price they need.
The housing market this year has been crazy! Can you give us an overview of what it looks like right now?
It’s not often you get to buy or sell a house during a pandemic. For a while last year, everything ground to a halt. But then after spending time locked down, everyone wanted more space and wanted to leave their condos and buy single-family homes. This created an inventory shortage. Then the Federal Reserve kept the interest rates low, so everyone was eager to buy. We hit a low point in July, where we only had about a week of inventory. But things are improving now and we have a few weeks of inventory in Northern Virginia. Buyers have more choices now.
Does Virginia’s housing market apply to the rest of the nation?
It always depends on location. Prices and inventory will vary depending on the micro-community, so you may see differences one block away. Using a program like the PCSgrades Military Real Estate Rewards means you get an agent who knows that area and understands micro-communities and the range of local prices.
Has the hot housing market cooled off?
It is absolutely still hot. We are seeing a slight increase in inventory. In Fairfax County this month, there are about 800 houses on the market, which is up from about 765 last month, but still not the 1,300 we are used to. But we are seeing inventory increasing, which means buyers have options to offer below sales price, get the home inspection, and/or perhaps negotiate your closing costs. You definitely want to talk to an agent and get your mortgage rate locked in now, because all the economists estimate that the interest rates will go up.
What role does the loan officer play in the home-buying process?
The 3 things I want my clients to get a handle on is their financing, what you want in a home, and the location. Working with a lender lets you know how much you qualify for in a mortgage, what your mortgage payments will be, and he’ll give you both targets and what-if scenarios, so we can negotiate the price down or get a little help from the sellers. Working closely with your lender lets you know where you are financially so you can be comfortable and not squeezing your style of living. I’ve had good success with Fairway. You need someone who will answer the phone on nights and weekends, because that’s when a lot of offers are made.
What tips would you give someone looking to buy a home?
Study the numbers of renting vs. buying. I just had a client, and when we did the math, he ended up saving $200 per month in comparison to renting, and he got a brand new, beautifully-renovated townhouse. So sometimes it makes sense to buy instead of rent, plus you get the advantage of the tax discount from homeownership. Because the rental market is hot, too. In some areas, rental prices are jumping over BAH rates.
Why is it so important to have a real estate agent who understands the military?
I’ve lived in Quantico and the D.C. area, so I know these areas well. When you look on Zillow and other property sites, there is usually a delay and those sites are several days behind. You need an agent who knows the area well and tracks the data for their listings, so they can send you listings that aren’t on those sites yet, and still fit your needs of being close to base, certain qualities, etc. The agent needs to know the area well, have updated data, and understand how prices are different from block to block. I had clients who thought I was pricing their home too high to sell, but I knew the supply and demand live from walking the neighborhoods, so we weren’t relying on market data that was outdated, and I could get them an extra $5,000- $10,000 total for their house.
A military-friendly real estate agent understands the challenges of military life. During PCS moves, you typically have 2-4 days to get into an area, look at homes, and try to make a decision. Your agent needs to understand the constraints of your house-hunting trip and block that time for you--possibly turning down other clients-- so you can submit an offer and have everything ready with your lender, so you can help them make that offer on time. You can’t help them on Tuesday if they are leaving on Monday. Our team has a great relationship with attorneys, so Century 21 is able to reach out to them quickly and check contract details if it impacts a service member in any way. Then when you sign a contract, you are confident you are getting the best options.
How can our audience find that trusted agent?
I would definitely start with the Military Real Estate Rewards program, because we go through a military family training in addition to the ethics training and all other annual requirements. We are used to working with service members and veterans, we are used to checklists, and we don’t approach the job like it’s a 9 to 5. We focus on you and your timeline, so we get you the expertise you need at any hour.
What tips do you have for buying a home without stepping foot inside?
Start early, and let your agent do reconnaissance for the neighborhood, so they can pick the top few homes for the area. They can assess major exterior issues like an outdated roof, drainage issues, environmental factors, etc without even entering the house. Secondly, we are going to do a market data search, to pull up historical pictures of that property, so we can see insurance claims made on the house. We can see if there is a dam, septic or well system, etc. You want to know the age of the system, especially if it’s older than 20 years.
How do you see the market changing in 2022?
For the buyers, things are improving because you don’t have to compete against so many offers. The rates are going to remain low in the first quarter, so you’ll have inventory increasing and low rates (for now), but you’ll need to reevaluate if the Federal Reserve raises the rates. Anything below 3.5% right now is great, and it’s good to take advantage of those rates.
For sellers, overall in Northern Virginia, the inventory is still at a 3-week to a 1-month mark. It is still a tight market, so if you do the right things to your house, you should be getting multiple offers for your home. You may get above what you are looking for, depending on location. Focus on making it move-in ready, because people want the updated kitchen, bathrooms, and carpets. This past year, you could sell a house as-is with multiple offers. Now, you do need to do those updates, but you should be able to get full list price for that. The average days on market is 15 days, which used to be 27 days in a non-COVID market.
Some people are skipping the home inspection to improve their offer. Do you recommend this?
No, definitely not. The home inspection is such an important step. They examine a long list of things, and they can put conditions on the loan for the seller to fix if there are electrical issues, unsafe stairs or decks. If you waive the inspection, the VA Loan appraisal may turn up some things, but not all of them. Yes, it makes your offer more competitive. And if those upgrades have been made in the past 5 years and signed off in county records, then that is a good sign. So there are some things your agent can see to give you some insurance about your home, but if you can get in the house to write your offer, then “trust your nose.” That mildew/damp smell is very expensive to fix! It could be $40,000 to get that fixed! Pet dander and cigarette smoke are also very expensive to get rid of.
What types of new builds are there?
The large tract builders, like Ryan Homes, are at full price and beyond, because they assume all the risk, so they can charge you higher surpluses. They develop an entire neighborhood at once and allow you to customize your build with many options. The plus side of this is that those homes are usually good for about 10 years without much needed maintenance.
There are smaller builders, which go to a neighborhood, demolish old homes and rebuild a new home on the site, but you have more liability for that, because you have to do a site survey and spend several months and several thousand dollars just to buy and approve the land. But you need to bring the builder in at the beginning when you are buying the land to make sure their design works with the property. You can hire your own site manager, but then that also costs more, so it’s important for you to be involved from the beginning.
If you are moving to the Pentagon, Stafford, and other Northern Virginia locations, you can contact John to be your real estate agent at: email@example.com