Thursday, October 17, 2019

Is this a legal bedroom?

I had a beautiful single family home listed recently that brought some interesting questions to mind. What makes a legal bedroom? What are the benefits of having an additional legal bedroom? Is making that basement "den" into a legal bedroom affordable? Is it worth it? So, I thought I'd blog about it!

Many people who are fortunate enough to have a finished basement have some sort of room down there that's being used as a guest room. However, when listing a property, many people ask the question, "is this a legal bedroom?" According to building codes in the state of Virginia, there are several things that are required to answer that question with a "yes!" First, the room has to be of a certain size at minimum. Specifically, it must be at least 70 square feet (or 100 square feet if there are two people living in it), and it must have at least 7 foot ceilings. The room also has to have access to a bathroom, without having to go through another bedroom to get there. In addition, you have to be able to heat the room, either with vents from the HVAC system or baseboard heating (space heaters do not count).

So that brings me to perhaps the most important point, and certainly the one the that is most debated. The room has to have two means of egress (or exit), one of which must lead directly outside. That means the room must have at minimum, a door by which you enter AND a window or door leading outside. If it is a window, it can't be one of those small transom windows either. A person, specifically a fireman in full gear, must be able to enter and exit the room through that window in case of a fire, so it has to be at least 20" x 24" (or 5.7 square feet). The window also must be accessible, so no more than 44" from the ground. It's important that the window is operable and doesn't have any bars or grates covering it. Now, the window does not have to be at ground level, so it's alright if it's in a well with a ladder.

One common misconception is that you just have to have two exits in the room, so some people will finish a basement with a room that has two doors in it and try to call it a bedroom. However, unless one of those doors leads directly outside, it does not count! Two doors leading into the rest of the basement does not satisfy the fire safety codes. Another very common misconception is that you must have a closet in the room for it to be considered a bedroom, but you actually don't! Interestingly, closets are not required in the building code.

So this all brings me to my next point: What's the benefit of having that extra legal bedroom? Well, let's just look at some simple statistics using Loudoun County as an example. In the last 6 months, the average 3 bedroom single family home (under 3,000 sq. feet) sold for about $556,000. Using the same criteria, the average 4 bedroom single family home (under 3,000 sq. feet) sold for about $593,000. That's a difference of $37,000. So what's the benefit? When you're selling your home, quite simply, more bedrooms means more money.

Is it possible to turn that basement "den" into a legal bedroom? That of course depends on a number of factors, as detailed above. But assuming the room meets the size and height requirements and has access to a bathroom, the biggest question is: does the room have at least one exterior wall? If the answer is yes, then it is possible to put in an egress window to make that room a legal bedroom. As I noted before, the window does not have to be at ground level. With that in mind, in order to make the room a bedroom, you'd need to add a window, and the way you'd do that is to dig down and create a window well (with a ladder depending on the depth of the window).

I'm sure you're thinking, "that sounds expensive!", but you might be surprised. The average cost in Loudoun to install an egress window is between $1,500-3,000 and is largely dependent on the amount of excavation required. (So if your basement is completely below ground, it will be the most expensive, but if you already have a transom window, the cost won't be as high.) Of course, that is no small amount of money, but when you have the potential to sell your home for an additional $30,000+ just because you put in the window and made that bedroom a legal one, is it worth it? I say yes!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Back in Action!

Some of you may be wondering why I took a little hiatus from real estate. Well.... here's your answer!

Isn't he a cutie?! This is my son, Everett James Crossett. He's just over 3 months old, and is the absolute light of my life! I wanted to take some time to devote solely to him, so I took a few months off, but now I'm back in action! I'm so fortunate that my mom is retired, lives nearby, and is always happy to watch my little peanut when I am out with clients! 

I've been meeting with my first few clients since his birth over the past few weeks, and I'm happy to say that I got my first ratified contract last night! It feels good to get back to work, especially now that I have a little one to provide for. I have always loved my job, but now I do more than ever, since it allows me to be there for my son AND provide for my family financially as well. He motivates me to be both the best mother and the best real estate agent I can!

If you or someone you know is ready to make a real estate investment, I'm the agent for you!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Why Use a Real Estate Agent for New Construction?

I've heard many people say, "You don't need to use a real estate agent if you're buying new construction." You will certainly hear those words from any builder's sales rep.  I can understand why a builder would say that (clearly they don't want to have to pay an agent's commission... that's less money in their pocket!) However, what I don't understand, is why a home-buyer would say that. 
So why should you use an agent?

Well, from a buyer's perspective, one of the biggest reasons is that as a buyer, it doesn't cost you anything to use an agent!  The seller (the builder in this case) pays the real estate commission. So, for the buyer, using an agent is a free service that could save you money both during the buying process and when you sell the home down the road.

As in any real estate transaction, your agent is there to guide you through the process and provide you with the expertise you need to make the best decision. Specifically with new construction, your agent can help guide you to the new construction neighborhood that will best suit your needs. There are many options out there, but they're not all right for you! She can also help you choose the best lot, as well as help you pick and choose the options that will make your home functional and beautiful but also give you the biggest bang for your buck. 

Another very important area where your agent can help in this situation is with financing options. Most builders have a lender and a title company that are associated with that specific builder. As a result, the builder will often offer "incentives" to use their lender and/or their title company. These incentives can range from options in the home (i.e: granite counters, a deck, a fenced in yard, a finished basement, etc.) to closing cost credits. However, just because the builder offers these incentives does not necessarily mean that you are getting the best deal with their lender. Your agent can put you in touch with several lenders and help find the best deal for your situation. 

Real estate agents also have a great deal of knowledge about the home-buying process that you most likely don't have. So how will this benefit you? In many ways, of course. It will also simply put your mind at ease knowing you have an expert to guide you through the process from start to finish. A specific example with new construction however, goes back to these "associated" companies I mentioned above. Often times, builders will discuss financing and settlement with you as if you don't have a choice but to use their lender and title company. BUT you always have a choice! The buyer gets to choose the lender and title company. Just because the builder may act like their's no alternative, doesn't mean that's the whole truth. Your agent will be able to help you decide if using the builder's lender and/or title company is right for you, or if it makes more sense for you to go with an outside company for either or both. 

Just remember: it's very important to have your agent with you from the first visit to the builder!! I hope that helps to clear things up for anyone looking at purchasing new construction! 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Key Real Estate Terms

I spend hours every day looking at listings online. It's part of my job to know what's out there, and of course to know what all the terms mean. However, I got to thinking today, what questions do most people have when looking at listings online? So, I had my husband, Robert, look at some listings on one of the main-stream real estate search engines, to see what questions he would have. Here's what we found:

Robert: "Under 'status', what does CNTG/No Ko mean?"

CNTG/No Ko: This is an abbreviation for 'Contingent, No Kick-Out'. This means that the listing you're looking at has a ratified contract, meaning that the contract and all terms have been agreed upon and signed by both the buyer and seller. The 'No Kick-Out' part means that there are contingencies on the contract (such as Home Inspection or Appraisal), but the seller is not able to accept any other offers at this time. The alternative is:

CNTG/KO: This is the abbreviation for 'Contingent, with Kick-Out'. This means that there is a ratified contract on the property, but the buyer has put a contingency on the contract for the sale of their current residence. In other words, this buyer will have to sell their current home, before they can buy this new one. A buyer would include this type of contingency if they need the proceeds from that sale in order to pay for the new house. The 'Kick-Out' means that the seller is able to continue to market this property and accept other offers. The buyer will be given a period of time for the Kick-Out, should the seller receive another offer, to either satisfy or remove the contingency (meaning sell their house or find a way to pay for the new house without selling their current house). If the buyer is not able to do so within the time-frame agreed upon within the contract, the seller is free to accept the other offer, and therefore "kick-out" the current contract.

Robert: "Because I'm spatially challenged... in layman's terms, how big is an acre?"

If you want specifics, an acre is 43,560 square feet. So, an acre is roughly the size of a football field from goal-line to goal-line (meaning without the end-zones.) An acre is slightly smaller than that, but it can be a good reference for those who are visual-learners.

Robert: "I'm looking at a listing that just has a street name but no house number. What does that mean?"

This can generally mean two things. The most common is that it's new construction, and the builder is advertising a model of house that they are building in a given neighborhood, but not a specific house. (Because it hasn't been built yet!) The alternative is that the seller has chosen not to advertise their exact address. This is a choice that all sellers have when putting together a listing agreement. You will easily be able to determine which is the correct scenario once you look at the pictures and/or description of the property. You can also look at the age of the home... if it says '0', it's new construction. ;)

These are just a few common questions that you may have when looking at a listing online, but if you have any questions of your own, feel free to reach out to me directly. I'll be happy to answer any of your questions!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Go With Your Gut

Buying a house is just like any other important decision you'll make in your life. Yes, it's important to do the research, and it's important to explore your options, but at the end of the day, the most important thing is to go with your gut. When you find the right house for you, you'll know it. Don't hesitate. Think about it this way: when you found the right man or woman for you, did you say, "I think you're the right one, but I'd like to go date 10 more guys just to make sure"? Do you think he'd wait around if you did? I think not. 

The past few days that I've spent with my current clients have reminded me a lot of my own home-buying experience. Just as I had, they spent months looking at properties online in all different areas, planning where they would buy, when they buy, and what they would buy. They had their must-have lists, their budgets, and their timeline. And then... an opportunity presented itself. They had to react quickly or risk losing the "dream home". They may have had to scramble at times to get things together, but they did it. Everything fell into place. They didn't hesitate. And they made the right decision. Some might even say it was "meant to be".

My husband and I bought our current home before I became a real estate agent, but my passion for this industry was already there. We were saving up to make the leap from townhouse to single family, and at that time, we felt like we had a good 8-12 months left of savings to go before we would be "ready". However, I was still spending hours online researching and looking at listings. I was careful not to look at anything above my price range, for fear I would fall in love with something I couldn't afford, but I guess I never thought about what would happen if I fell in love with something I could afford. Well... I found out. 

One day I came across a listing I hadn't seen before. The house had been on the market, but the price was just reduced and now fell within my search parameters. It was perfect. (Or at least as perfect as it gets when you have a budget!) It had everything we were looking for and more. It needed a few updates but nothing substantial, and we aren't afraid of renovations. I drooled over the pictures for a few minutes and then moved on to something else. Problem was, for the next couple days, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Finally, I decided to show my husband. He thought it looked nice but couldn't understand why I was showing it to him because we weren't ready to buy for another year. (If you were to ask him about it now, he may say that this is where I started to "brain-ninja" him.) So I asked him, "how do you know we're not ready?" Of course, in an ideal world, we would have had more money saved up, but that didn't mean we couldn't, right? 

Well, after a call to our mortgage broker, who told us we could do it, I convinced my husband that we should just go see it. He agreed and so did our wonderful agent (aka: my mother-in-law!) I knew before we even got there that it was the one, but of course I had to be sure. We saw a few houses before we toured "the one", and nothing impressed us. When we got there, we both loved it. We said we'd go home and talk about. Well, being the wonderful agent she is, my mother-in-law called the listing agent to let him know we may be interested. That's when we found out there was another offer on the table. Well, no more time to think about it. We had to act fast. We put in our best offer, and we got the house. I haven't regretted it for a second. 

Even with the hundreds, if not thousands, of houses I've looked at online or in person since then, I have yet to find a house that I would choose over my own. So I know I made the right decision. I'm confident my clients will feel the same way after they've been in their new home for 2 years also.

Well, all this reminiscing is nice, but I must have a point, right? Of course I do. While I would never recommend that my clients buy a house before they are ready (both financially and emotionally), sometimes things just fall into place for a reason. (New regulations make it nearly impossible to buy if you're not financially ready anyway.) If it's right, it's right. If it's meant to be, you'll find a way to make it happen. When your gut says "this is the house for me", listen to it and don't look back.

Friday, January 17, 2014

One Benefit of Buying vs. Renting

It's that time of year again. You go out to the mailbox to pick up your mail, and what do you find? That lovely W2, which tells you how much (or little!) you earned this year. That can only mean one thing: it's tax season. Tired of cutting a check to the IRS every year? Buying a home can help with that. 

Of course, I'm not saying that buying a home will ease all of your tax woes, but there are tax benefits to home-ownership that can lessen the burden. The biggest benefit is that you are able to deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage (which I will explain in detail below), but you can also deduct the Real Estate taxes you pay each year. These things can easily become the difference between writing a check to the IRS and cashing a check from the IRS.

There are a few things that are important to understand here. First of all, the interest on your mortgage is amortized in your payments throughout the life of the loan (often 30 years). You pay the majority of the interest in the beginning of the loan. So, here's an example: Let's say your mortgage is $400,000 with an interest rate of 4% for a 30-year fixed loan. Based on those numbers, your payment would be approximately $1,900 per month (this is assuming there is nothing else included in your payments, such as mortgage insurance, taxes, etc.) In your first payment, about $1,325 of that $1,900 would be applied toward interest and only $575 would be applied to the principal of the loan. Those numbers gradually change over the life of the loan. So, in year 15 of the loan for example, you would pay about $850 toward interest and $1,050 toward principal. 

Ok... so... what does this have to do with taxes? Well, you can deduct A LOT of interest from your taxes, especially in the first 10 years or so of the loan when money is often the tightest for people. Just take that example above. That person will be able to deduct over $15,000 of interest in the first year. Like I said... A LOT!

However, it's even more important to understand what a deduction means. It does NOT mean that this person is going to get $15,000 back from the IRS or that they owe $15,000 less in taxes. It means that they will be able to deduct $15,000 from their taxable income. So, that's $15,000 less that they will be taxed on. For instance, let's say that the person in the example above makes $75,000. (To make this example easier, let's just assume that the $75,000 is after all other deductions, withholding's, etc.) They will be able to subtract that $15,000 from their income to make their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI or taxable income) $60,000. So, instead of being taxed on $75,000, they will only be taxed on $60,000 of their earnings. Depending on the other factors involved (and yes, there are MANY other factors involved), this may mean that our example person is going to get a couple hundred or even a couple thousand dollars back from the IRS, instead of having to pay more or breaking even.

Ok, so now that I've got your head spinning, I'll wrap this up. The point is, this is just one of the many benefits to buying a home that you cannot get when renting. Maybe your rent payment is only $1,500 a month and paying that extra $400 a month for your own place seems daunting. This is one benefit that can make that stretch a little more attainable.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a tax expert or a mortgage expert. The numbers used in the examples are simply estimates, and everyone's situation varies when it comes to taxes. If you'd like to know more about how buying a home can benefit your tax situation, please consult your tax professional. For more information about these deductions, here is a link to the IRS website:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saving for a home: Put your purchases in perspective

With the New Year approaching, there's a lot of talk about resolutions. Perhaps your New Year's Resolution is to buy a home in 2014, but how do you get there? You've been saving for what feels like forever, but the amount in that savings account is just not going to cut it. Fortunately, there are a lot of programs out there that can help you out. With an FHA loan for example, you can put down as little as 3.5% on your home. However, that's still a lot of money. Between the down payment, closing costs, and all of those little essentials you need when you move in, the amount of money you need can become daunting. So, you need a plan.

Start by making yourself a budget, and stick to it! Think about the big picture here. How important is it that you're able to buy a house? Can you give up going out to dinner three times a week for the next few months in order to save more? Can you forego buying those new shoes? Make yourself a budget that focuses on the essentials, but allows you a little bit of flexibility. You can't expect yourself to buy nothing and never eat at a restaurant for a whole year. You'll get frustrated and give up. That's why it's important to make a budget that's possible for you to stick with from the beginning. Some people have more self control than others, so think about what is possible for YOU to achieve. You'll still need to push yourself, or it'll take you years to save enough money. A temporary change in lifestyle can really pay off in the long run.

No, I'm not saying that you need to become a recluse and survive solely on ramen noodles. It can be surprising how much all those little purchases can add up though. Yeah, maybe that lunch was only $10, but $10 a day, is $50 in a work week, which adds up to $2,600 a year. That's just on lunches (and $10 is a pretty inexpensive lunch if you live in the NOVA/DC area)! Start packing your lunch, it'll save you loads of cash. 

When I was saving for a home, I'd often find myself wandering into a store, and I would inevitable find something that I just HAD TO HAVE. Only, I didn't really need it. It may sound crazy, but whenever this would happen, I would actually ask myself, "What do you want more: this outfit, or a new house?" I think you know the answer to that question. Was spending $100 on a new outfit really going to keep me from buying my house? No. But $100 on an outfit today, $50 on new shoes next week, another new outfit later, and pretty soon you've blown hundreds, if not THOUSANDS, on stuff you don't really need, and you are no closer to buying that house. Even though I'm no longer saving for a new house, I still ask myself that same question whenever I'm saving for something, whether it's a great vacation, new furniture, or whatever I set my sights on! Just remember: you can do anything if you put your mind to it!