The Color of Real Estate

Contributing Blogger, Parker Hill @

If someone were to ask you, “What color would you describe real estate?” you might say gray because of the foundation or even tan because of the framework. However if one were to ask me, I’d say real estate is green. There are a number of reasons why I say this. Real estate is inextricably tied to money. Every bit of the transaction and people involved has something to do with money. It’s a business for profit. However, there is a more important reason why I say real estate is green.

The Color Of Real Estate

With all of the hype today about green options and becoming a healthier, less wasteful society, the fist thing that comes to many minds is “How can I make my home more green?” It’s not such a farfetched idea. After all, real estate is often a person’s largest asset. It’s where we sleep, eat, play, rest. It’s where we spend our time and consume energy. Luckily, no matter your interest or price range, there are plenty of options for you to pursue in an attempt at making a greener home.

I like to think of green estate in three different levels. The first is for those who are interested in living greener without making any new purchases. This is a simple and fairly effective method. Examples of this can include: using a clothesline to dry your clothes, opening windows when you want to let cool or warm air in, changing your clothing before adjusting the thermostat and using the shades to control how much solar warmth you are letting in.

The second level is for those who want to make small purchases to make their home greener. There are a number of small things you can buy to help in your green endeavors. For example, CFL bulbs are a great alternative to traditional...

Washington DC Ranks #9 For Young Entreprenuers

Washington DC Ranks in Top Cities for Young Entrepreneurs

Under30CEO, an online resource for young entrepreneurs, recently asked its followers to let them know what cities in the US were friendliest for starting businesses. Among the items that the voters were asked to consider were climate, the social scene, schools, local events and other resources. With these being the considerations, it's probably no surprise that Washington, DC made it into the top 10 cities for young entrepreneurs.

Although Washington, DC is most noted as a political city, it has many well respected colleges and universities (Georgetown, George Washington, American, and Howard...among others) and these institutions add both to the academic climate and to the social scene. I'm personally not sure where we ranked in the climate department (I've always contended that climate is NOT why people live in the DC area -- hot and humid in the summer and sometimes cold and wet in the winter)...but we do have beautiful springs (there is nothing better than the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin).

Washington Ranked #9 among the top 10, with Seattle at the bottom of the list. The other 8 cities, starting and number 1 and ending at number 8 were: New York, San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Denver, Chicago, San Diego and Portland.


Green Guilty Pleasures in Bethesda / Washington DC

So "Green" is in…everyone knows that. It’s totally uncool to be non-Green…we all need to have an awareness of the environment and a commitment to doing our part.

About a year ago, I stopped by the see a friend who was busily cleaning out her garage. “What are you doing,” I asked….probably a little stupidly, because it was clear that she was cleaning out her garage…only not. Her answer was, “I’m reducing my carbon footprint by 50%.” Got it? Green.

Going Green in Greater Bethesda?

Green definitely carries in to home building and home remodeling. Here’s a headline from an open house ad in the Washington Post several weeks ago:

“Energy Saving Luxurious New ‘Green’ House.”

Sounds good, right?   If you were a potential buyer for this $2M property, you’d feel good about spending your money on an environmentally responsible new construction.

But wait? Are we really committed to going “green” or are there environmentally unfriendly features of new construction and renovations that appeal to practically all of us?

Let’s keep reading this advertisement from the Washington Post (in bold):

“Fine craftsmanship & custom details throughout brick and stone home.” Well, everyone loves fine craftsmanship and custom details but where did the brick and stone come from?  If it’s not local, and it needed to be transported any distance, then it’s not green.

“3 finished levels with 10’ boxed and coffered ceilings…” Three finished levels would probably indicate an...

Paging President Obama: Where's The

The stimulus plan signed into law this week and the new efforts the President announced today to shore up the credit markets are likely to have numerous favorable effects on a rapidly eroding economy, but at least from the sound bites he and congressional leaders are making, there seems to be an imbalanced emphasis on plugging holes in the dam, not dealing with what’s missing most in our failing economy: buyers.

The economy’s fundamental problem (among its many “fundamental” problems), is that "ordinary people" - the 93 percent or the workforce still employed and who likely are still in relatively sound financial condition - are scared to participate in the economy. They are afraid to buy, to spend money, to invest… to do the things that stimulate and create markets... to help bring back to life the other side of our economy. The demand side. The emphasis seems to be on patching our troubles, not rebuilding. To do that, we need the demand side of the economy to reawaken. The $8,000 or so house purchase credit for first-time buyers is a nudge in the right direction, but it probably needs to be $20,000 or $30,000, or even more, and not be limited to first time buyers…. and maybe it should not have had income caps on who could take advantage of it, or if retained, at least much higher ones. Maybe we should have put $100 billion of the $789 billion rescue package into that effort.

Much of today’s speech about the Treasury’s coming efforts to stem foreclosures and beef up credit institutions seems again to put the emphasis on patching holes in our walls... That putty may keep the inventory of homes on the market from rising further (or more slowly) because it might stem the rising number of foreclosures, but it doesn’t create buyers.

We need buyers for our already inflated housing inventories. The nation’s housing supply is enormous, and in response, housing prices have...

What To Expect From a Home Inspection…a DC Metro Area Focus

Now that we’re back to the days when purchasers can “safely” make a home inspection contingency part of their purchase offer, I find that first time buyers are curious about the inspection process and what to expect. I personally hated those days when buyers couldn’t compete without giving up a home inspection and often recommended “pre-inspections” in order to gain at least some knowledge about the house, so I’m thrilled that this basic contingency is again available to buyers.

In the Washington DC Metropolitan Area, buying a house is not a simple process. Buyers often think that the hardest part will be actually finding the home of their dreams, but agents know that when the buyer says “wow” the fun has only just begun!! And, although complicated, it CAN be fun. In our marketplace, we first have to get through a contract that consists of well over 50 pages. In our Addendum of Clauses is the Home Inspection Contingency which assures the purchaser an opportunity to have the home evaluated within a short time period (usually 5 to 7 days). After that time, the purchaser lets the seller know if they still want to buy the property and, if so, if there are things that the seller MUST fix (the contract defines certain systems that have to be in normal operating order) and/or things that the purchaser would LIKE fixed (which starts another negotiation on these items).

So, the home inspection is an extremely important part of the buyers’ decision making process. But how does a buyer know (1) who to hire to do the home inspection, (2) what to expect of the inspection and (3) how to react to what the inspector finds? This is usually something that I try to discuss with sellers before they actually have to face it. When we meet, or as we’re viewing properties, I like to talk about the process so that there’s some knowledge about what’s coming next. I let buyers know...

Cool Dupont Circle Video

Happy 2009 Washington DC!

First, I'd like to wish everyone a happy belated New Years. Here's to a a year health, happiness, and "prosperity" - however you'd like to define that word:-)

Dupont Circle Video

I bought this video from a stock footage website because I loved the "feel" - how well it represented the vibrant night-life in Dupont Circle. This is just one special area of the DC Metro Area that we (Gretchen and I) will cover more in depth. If you'd like to learn more about Dupont Circle and surrounding neighborhoods, I've included some links in the "related links" section below.  Enjoy!

- Contributing Blogger - Kevin Koitz


Mending a River(Road) - Reflections After The Bethesda Water Main Break

Still Mending River Road 4 Days Later

Since the 911 calls made their way onto CNN, there are probably not too many people who don’t know about the 66 inch water main that broke in suburban Maryland two days before Christmas, turning a main road into a river and trapping 9 motorists.

Those of us who live near the rupture were glued to television sets as the scene played out in front of our eyes, with helicopters and boats rescuing the victims and clearly saving lives. Many of those trapped reported not only rushing water (on a cold morning where temperatures were only in the teens), but also debris including rocks and branches. The fact that there were no serious injuries or fatalities is a real tribute to firefighters and Maryland State Police. And, it seems as though the community also owes a great deal of thanks to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) and the road repair crews. In my house (located a couple of miles from the break), our only indication that something of this magnitude had happened with the water service was low water pressure. Although some homes were without water completely for a short period of time, WSSC was quickly able to redirect water so as to minimize any service interruptions.

In total, it took only 6 hours to get everything back to normal – which seems incredible given the amount of water involved, the vast service area, and the severe damage to a 66 inch water main. During those 6 hours, anyone selling water did a great business. I personally saw people pushing cartloads of bottled water out of a CVS, and a friend of ours bought almost $200 worth of water from the Drink More Water store in Bethesda. I also heard of one person who filled her bathtub…just in case her water was cut off later in the day.


Baby Boomers 2.0, Real Estate, and Trends, Oh My!

A recent survey prepared for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which was released within the past few weeks, concludes that one in four baby boomer households expects to move from their current home in the future. This really shouldn’t be big news to people, but the question of where these people move and into what should definitely be something that our society is considering.

In the past, baby boomer families who could afford to move would likely head to  warmer climates…thus the growth of retirement communities in our more southern states. Today, most boomers say that they would like to stay in their current homes, but will probably make a move to a more convenient living style – which translates in 59% of the cases to one level living.

Today’s baby boomers are not so quick to take off for say Ft. Lauderdale retirement homes, or the Gulf shore condos. Instead, some are staying in their current communities (just moving to apartments or one-level homes), while others are making new homes in areas of the country that have not been previously identified as popular retirement areas. These include places as varied as Vermont, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Washington State. Besides one level living, baby boomers also indicate that they’d like to live in a newer home and/or a smaller home. And, of special importance to today’s boomers is proximity to family (usually meaning children and grandchildren).

Preferences and expectations of baby boomers do vary according to both age and gender. The report says that older boomers are significantly more likely than younger boomers to think that they will move into a single level home; men are more likely than women to believe they will move into a newer home or move into a home in a warmer or better climate; and women are more likely to think they will downsize.


Kensington MD Real Estate |

…as in, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

We’re marketing a luxury property in Chevy Chase View (in Kensington MD) where the builder stepped way beyond the norm in terms of finishes.We don’t just have hardwood floors, we have random width hickory floors…and we have hickory floors not only on the living level and the master bedroom, but throughout the entire second floor.We don’t just have a Wolf oven…we have three Wolf ovens.Of course there are granite tops in the kitchen and the master bedroom, but there’s also granite in the four other bedrooms and in the butler’s pantry.In addition, we have a whole house sound system and a lower level theatre with surround sound.

So, what’s the problem?The problem is that in the current market, where buyers are intent on bargaining, there appears to be no appreciation for this kind of quality.That may sound harsh, but it seems to be true.Buyers want to talk about square footage and about number of rooms.This house has 5 bedrooms, 5 full baths and 2 half baths, but it’s competing with properties that are even bigger.Buyers aren’t looking at doors, windows, doorknobs, or…in many cases…even appliance brands.I tell builders today that buyers think that “stainless” is a brand.Just say you have stainless and granite and you’re upscale!! 

If we’re really returning to a mindset that homes are where we live…and not where we park our money for investment purposes, then the quality of the home we buy should matter more.  Finishes should count and quality should be king.


State of Maryland Imposing Tax Penalties Before Taxes Are Due?

So, it’s come to this.Revenues are obviously down throughout the country and state and local governments are facing shortfalls.But the State of Maryland has an interesting way of dealing with the problem, if a letter we received yesterday is any indication.

My husband and I filed our state tax return electronically (via our tax preparer) during the first week of April.The balance due to the State was mailed on April 6 and the check was cashed on April 14th.So far that sounds reasonable.

Here’s the rub.On April 16th, we received a letter from the Maryland State Revenue Administration Division, saying that we owed a balance on our 2007 taxes, along with a penalty for those overdue taxes.That letter from the State was dated April 14th, a day(we all know) is one day prior to the due date for taxes.Hmmmmm.

We’ve sent them a letter, suggesting that there was an error…our taxes were paid on time…our check was cashed by the State…and we don’t owe a penalty.I fear this won’t be the end.I’ll keep you informed.


The Super Bowl Theory Proved?

Hello all: as many of you know from speaking to me directly or reading my previous blog posts, I firmly believe that there is a specific time-frame where the Washington DC area real estate market is most active.  I just posted a new entry in my REW blog reporting on my observations about the this "Super Bowl to Mother's Day theory".  I hope you get a chance to read it!     


The Super Bowl: not just football and great commercials for DC Metropolitan Real Estate

When you think of Superbowl Sunday, you probably have visions of two football teams in hot pursuit of a national title. I’m sure you also conger up the million dollar commercials that often bring more excitement than the game; and perhaps some thought goes to the fun food that is consumed during the game – hot wings, chili, beer..whatever. Of course, you say, what else would come to mind when you think of Superbowl? The answer, my friends, is that I think of the spring real estate market!!

Montgomery County MD and Washington DC Real Estate waits for The Super Bowl?

Okay…now I have to explain. In the Washington, D.C. area we can, in my opinion, define our spring market (and every seller wants to sell in the “spring” market) as from Super Bowl Sunday ‘til Mother’s Day. Don’t ask me why…it’s one of those things that just is. It’s clear from the statistics and from the activity level in the market that this is how the dc real estate market functions.

I have some guesses about why this is…and, thanks for asking, I’ll share them. For me, it seems that the phone starts ringing right at the beginning of every New Year and the calls are coming from people who want to buy and/or sell. My theory is that people spend a lot of time in their homes over the holidays and, when the humble abode no longer works (either too big or too small), they are more likely to feel it after having been confined during this time. So, as soon as the holiday decorations are put away, they make a call to their favorite real estate agent. If they’re buyers, they’re probably only a week or two away from being in a position to begin their hunt. For sellers, we often have a short period of “get the house in showing order” time (something that’s become even more...

Metro Stops & Mountain Views?

Update:  One of Gretchen Koitz's Many Contributions Here attributed to me (Kevin Koitz).  Blame it on our developers :-)

Greetings from Telluride Colorado where I’m sitting in our condo watching a few people making their way to the Gondola…trying to decide if this is another ski day (third in a row), or a “break” day so that the legs can recover. No matter where I go, there’s always the real estate agent in me that comes to the surface, so I thought I’d share my impression of the market in this VERY upscale area.

Telluride, like many Colorado ski areas, started its life as a mining town. As a developing ski area, it’s relatively young….its popularity only blossomed in the last 10 to 15 years. That’s partly because it is not as accessible as many other Western ski towns. As many people say, “The bad news about Telluride is that it’s hard to get to…the good news about Telluride is that it’s hard to get to…” That translates to a ski mountain that is never crowded, where lift lines just don’t exist.

In a housing sense, Telluride is made up of two very distinct areas…the Town of Telluride at the “base” of the mountain and Mountain Village, which sits part way up the mountain. Telluride still feels like a mining town, in many ways…and Mountain Village feels like a ritzy LA suburb with snow. That doesn’t mean that properties in town are reasonably priced, because they aren’t.  It appears that the average sales price is $1000 to $1500 per square foot – in both single family homes and in condos. In the local real estate catalogue there are efficiency condos for as little as $400K and single family homes for up to $20M.

So why am I attempting to write about real estate in Telluride,...

A Special Side Benefit

When you have the privilege of helping people buy and sell houses…especially if those properties are for their own use…you have an opportunity to share a very personal time with the buyers and/or sellers. Some people say that you really get to know people when you come between them and their money – and that’s something real estate agents do on a daily basis.

In the over 20 years that I’ve been assisting in the exciting process of buying and selling homes in the Washington DC area, I’ve been fortunate enough to have many of these transactions result in not only a sale, but also a life-long friendship. To me, this makes perfect sense. It especially makes sense in a “slower” market when you have more time to spend with both buyers and sellers. Although there was something really fun (in a purely selfish sense!) about the market that we’ve recently left, where sellers could expect multiple offers after the first weekend on the market and buyers had to make quick decisions and give up home inspections, a more ‘normal” market allows for more time to get to know both buyers and sellers.

When I first started in the real estate business, the crazy market of the late 80s was ending and things were slowing. As a new agent, that was good for me because I had the “luxury” of learning my craft at an unhurried pace. During that time, I worked with one set of buyers that took three years to find their “perfect” Bethesda home. Some may be shaking their heads and thinking that I was absolutely crazy to hang on for that long, but I liked the clients…they made very few demands and their decision to wait for that “right” house made absolute sense. When you spend that much time with people, you get to know them…and...

How does an Emotion Property Fit Into Theory of Micro-Niches?

So if you buy into the idea of micro-niches, and I’d argue that you’d be silly not to buy in, then where do “emotion” properties fit in? By definition, an “emotion” property is one that has that special something (or those special somethings) that pull in a buyer (or buyers) – usually either an architectural feature, a location detail (i.e., looking out over the Potomac River or the Avenel Golf Course), or an “aura” that’s probably undefineable (another one of those things that you “know it when you see it”). An “emotion” property could exist within a micro-niche…or outside of a micro-niche – and, in either case, does not rely on the micro-niche (or lack of same) for its inherent value.

Now that I’ve got you completely confused (I think I’ve even confused myself!), let’s look at a couple of examples. A recent listing of ours in Chevy Chase, D.C. sat in a desirable subdivision, on a charming street (micro-niche), but it sold fairly quickly in a slowing market in great part (in my humble opinion) to an “emotion” factor. The house  boasted a couple of wonderful additions, the most spectacular of which was a third floor loft/studio with a wall of windows. At the couple of open houses that I held, it was fun to watch people wander thru the first floor (which had its own charm), head upstairs -- and 10 minutes later, reappear with smiles on their faces. The 3rd floor brought the “wow” factor, the “emotion” factor…and the quick sale.

Another listing that we had the pleasure of marketing was in an area of Silver Spring that brought many conveniences, but probably didn’t stand out as any particularly desirable micro-niche. The house, however, was a true stand out. Owned by an architect/graphic...

Different Markets Breed Different Requirements...

Gretchen's Real Estate Reflections Series

I’ve been doing this (selling real estate in the Washington, DC area) so long that I remember going thru this seller’s market before. During the last such market, I got a call from the family of an elderly woman. They wanted their mom to sell her home and move into something smaller. I went thru the house with the family and came up with a list of 15 items (painting, patching, adding carpet, refinishing floors, landscaping, etc., etc. etc.) that needed to be done in order to sell the property. Well, the owner refused to move and spent another 5 years in the house. 

The next time the family called, she was in a nursing home and the house needed to be sold. Somehow or another, I still had my notes and the list of 15 items from my previous visit (no, I’m usually NOT that was just a fluke). None of the suggested repairs/improvements had been made…but the market had changed. When I went back to the house, I only saw one of those 15 items that really needed to be done in order to market and sell the house. 

Today we’re back to the list of 15 items.


Micro, Micro Niches. What's a Balcony Have to Do With It?

In a previous blog post, we discussed the issue of micro niches…how you can’t talk about the Washington Metropolitan market, or even the Bethesda market, or even the Downtown Bethesda market. Instead, you have to go almost block-by-block, and consider not only location, but also product….or how about location within a product? For example, I showed a condo in NW Washington D.C. a couple of weeks ago in a building that is somewhat challenged because of high monthly fees. Most of the time, units in this building tend to sit for weeks on end. In this case, however, this particular apartment had one of the most fabulous terraces I’ve ever seen. It wrapped around the entire unit and faced open spaces and greenery…with an unobstructed view of The National Cathedral in the distance. It came as no surprise, that even in this “tough” market, this apartment was under contract in less than three weeks. It was a micro niche within a micro niche within a micro niche… 


Tis The Season

Even in the greatest exuberance of a seller’s market, there are seasonal changes in real estate transactions. Historically, the time between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the new year is a great time to be a buyer. Why? It just seems as though most people are busy doing other things than house shopping. The downside for buyers, in a seller’s market, is that inventory is usually low and not many people put their homes on the market during this holiday season. 

Fast forward to today’s market, where inventory is high and buyers are scarce…and now we have the holiday season. It’s a great time to consider a house purchase. You’ll be most successful if you concentrate on homes that have been on the market for at least six weeks and if the property is vacant, that usually indicates even more chance for a “deal” to be made with a serious seller. 

Either way, enjoy the holidays….and there’s still time to enjoy them in a new house!


Micro Niches in The Washington, D.C. Area Real Estate Market

Articles from Realtor Magazine, a national publication sent to every Realtor in the country, rarely resonate with me. Because real estate is so local, much of the content is normally not applicable to the Washington DC area real estate market. But I just finished reading a short piece, "The Rise of Micro Markets" and it was one of the first pieces that I've read that has clearly outlined the concept of "markets within markets".   Short and concise, it didn't specifically mention the Washington, D.C. market (in fact it spoke mostly about San Jose, California), but its content certainly applies to us.

The Micro-market?

What it says, in a nutshell, is that in a slowing market, a property's location becomes even more important and that you can't generalize about a city...or even about a neighborhood within the city. Instead, "Micro Markets" can be defined in terms of blocks or sometimes in terms of types of housing. Since I do a lot of my business, for instance, in downtown Bethesda townhomes, I have often argued that this product is a "micro niche." You can neither compare this housing to Bethesda as a whole, nor can you compare to townhomes in general. And, in fact, the very limited complexes of downtown Bethesda townhomes are, in my opinion, each a "micro, micro niche."

Simply said, it's all about location....and even locations within locations...and the value of each mini location becomes even more pronounced in a "slower" market.


Greater Bethesda, MD & NW, Washington DC Condos - Time to go Big

With all the talk about it being a sellers’ market, there is at least one type of housing in the Washington Metropolitan Area that is in short supply and high demand – condos of over 2500 square feet.  Maybe because condos were originally conceived to be “starter” properties – or maybe because municipalities encourage higher density in urban areas (supposedly to cut down on the number of cars on the road – but that’s a whole other misconception!) – most condos are 1 and 2 bedroom units, usually maxing out at about 1600 square feet. There are some wonderful coops in NW Washington D.C. that offer 2500 sq ft. or more of floor-space, and certainly a few condos (I would venture to say that Bethesda probably has fewer than I can count on my fingers) of similar size, but it is truly limited.

A quick search of the multiple listing system shows, for instance, that two larger units (both over 2800 sq ft) – one at The Edgemoor at Arlington in Bethesda, MD and one at The Somerset in Friendship Heights  --  sold very quickly in this market. Both offer what today’s buyer wants….lots of one-story space and a “walkable” location. 

I think a developer would do extremely well with a high end, boutique building that only offered larger units…but I doubt that anyone is willing to take that risk in this market.

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