Winter in the D.C. metropolitan area can bring unpredictable weather.
Egypt Sherrod, Host of “Property Virgins,” offers the best advice for finding the perfect sustainable dwelling for you and your family.
How should a couple prepare for shopping for a new home?
Egypt: Well, there are two parts to this: You want to prepare yourself financially, but also mentally.
Financial preparation involves:
Paying Your Debts: By paying off your debts, particularly those with higher interest rates, you’ll have more financial freedom. It will also give you a cleaner buyer profile when it comes time to apply for a mortgage.
Saving Money: You’ll need enough for a solid down payment, closing costs and a 3-to-6-month living reserve. So, save your money! The larger the down payment, the lower the loan amount you’ll have to pay off and the less interest you’ll have to pay.
Evaluating Your Buying Power: The very first step in buying a home is to sit down with a loan officer to evaluate your financial picture. They’ll go over your monthly income and debts to help determine the maximum amount you will be pre-approved for on a loan. It is a wise decision to make this the very first thing you do.
Mental preparation involves:
Getting on the Same Page: If you are purchasing a home with another person, it is wise for both to draft up a wish list of needs that are important and things that can be compromises. Discuss location, budget, deal breakers, etc. Then merge both lists into one functional wish list. This will streamline your search by leaps and bounds.
Doing Your Homework: This will quite possibly be one of the biggest purchases in your lifetime so research is important. You want to find a competent and knowledgeable agent to guide you, but don’t rely solely on them for information. Be prepared to research schools, crime rates and any other information that will be pertinent for your purchase.
Coming to Terms: The truth is that most buyers find themselves compromising on a few things on their wish list. Whether it’s price, dream location or some of the aesthetic features, be flexible and you’ll be successful.
What are some things homeowners should look for when being shown a house?
Egypt: Before you even step foot in the house, you should observe the neighborhood. What are the amenities? Is the community well kept? Do the neighbors maintain on their lawn or exterior of their home? Remember when you purchase a home, you are also purchasing the neighbors and neighborhood.
Also, ask the agent the age of the roof, HVAC and water heater. If any of these need to be replaced they can add up to a lot of money.
What questions should you ask the real estate agent about the market?
Egypt: Some wise questions to ask are:
How many homes are for sale in this community?
If there is an abnormally high percentage on the market then it could be for a good reason. That’s a red flag.
What is the real estate climate like in this area? Is it a buyers market or sellers market?
This is important information to know when it comes to negotiations. If there are tons of bidding wars then that’s a sign of a sellers market and you’ll know to make a stronger offer.
Seek information about comparable sales or “comps.” An agent should arm you with plenty of comparables—prices of similar, nearby homes that have been sold recently—along with high and low ranges for a particular property. Ask your agent the average length of time homes are staying on the market and what kinds of prices sellers are getting. Are homes going for close to asking price or above?
Is this a flood plain?
Egypt: This is a very important one to know. Flood plains require flood insurance and in some areas the cost is steep. You’ll want to know how your bottom line will be affected up front.
What are some tips for finding out if the house you are purchasing or renting is energy efficient?
Egypt: In an average house, up to 50 percent of heat is lost through drafts. Check around the doors and windows for cracks and separation. Also check for gaps around the floor, maybe up a chimney or two and a whole host of other little holes around the house. To test an area, simply hold the palm of your hand up against a door or window. If you feel cold air coming through, warm air is escaping.
Look for energy-efficient appliances. There are a plethora of them on the market now. When in doubt, look for the ENERGY STAR logo on all appliances and systems and you can’t go wrong. On average, they use 50 percent less energy than standard appliances.
Look for insulation in the attic or loft. Up to a third of your home heating escapes through the roof. Insulation keeps the home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
What are some sustainable/green features to look for when shopping for a new home or an apartment?
Egypt: An air filtration system will ensure the air quality in your home is healthy. On average most homes have more pollutants inside than outside your home.
Also, look for paints, stains and carpets that have zero to no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Typically the effects of VOCs are not seen immediately but over a lifetime and prolonged exposure, there is a potential of developing chronic illness or fatigue.
Energy-efficient bulbs, new windows, and appliances are also important: If you are buying a home, replacing existing windows with energy-efficient windows is an easy add-on and should be standard.
For water conservation, look for cisterns. Using rainwater for yard irrigation or filtered gray water for non-consumable or cleansing activities will save greatly on your water bill. Cisterns come in all shapes and sizes and can easily be hidden.
What are some considerations when purchasing an older home?
Egypt: Many times if the systems of the home have not been converted to more energy-efficient systems, it can cost a fortune to heat and cool. Request an energy audit of the home.
Sometimes, homes built before the 1920s don’t have insulation in the walls and this could cause higher-than-normal energy bills.
Older homes are also more prone to termite and mold issues so do your due diligence during inspection. The great thing about an older home is that they’ve more than likely already settled into the foundation so you won’t see any new cracks in the walls or ceilings. Older homes also tend to offer more character and detailed features that you won’t find as often in newer homes.
What is a more energy-efficient way to heat a home?
Egypt: Today’s high efficiency natural gas heating systems are now up to 96 percent efficient. Since space heating accounts for almost half of the energy that a typical home uses and heating systems often operate 15 hours a day during winter months, increasing efficiency is the single most effective way to reduce your energy bill. In addition, natural gas heating is preferred for high quality heat and reliability.
What are some red flags when looking at a home?
Egypt: Homes that sit at the bottom of a highly pitched hill can be less favorable than homes that sit at the top of a hill. When it rains or if snow melts, where do you think all the water is going to run? Downhill.
When you view a house, don’t be afraid to turn the water on in the kitchen and in all the bathrooms. If the water is an odd color, if it smells or if the water pressure is extremely low, it can be a sign of rust in the pipes or plumbing issues.
The basement always tells on the house. Go to the basement and look for any large cracks in the ground or in the walls. Those are signs that the foundation has been compromised. Also look to see if the walls have black stains, usually an indicator of mold.
As a first-time buyer, how can you become a savvy home-buyer?
Egypt: Build your real estate dream team to help you through the journey. As a first-time buyer it’s natural to have a learning curve. That’s why you put a team of experienced and competent professionals in place to walk you through the buying process. You’ll need a respected and ethical real estate agent, a knowledgeable real estate attorney and a meticulous and certified home inspector. On your journey be sure to ask a lot of questions to make this an active learning experience for yourself.