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7 local realtors share insider tips on the housing market

Looking to make a move this season, but don’t know where to start? We went behind the scenes with some of the region’s most in-demand realtors to get their insider tips for diving into the spring market.

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It’s that time of year. As the weather warms up, the ubiquitous open house signs and beckoning balloons come out—signaling the start of the spring real estate market. And, right now, Northern Virginia is hot, hot, hot for both homebuyers and sellers.

The announcement that Amazon is moving to town, rumors of interest rates going up and a tight home inventory have created the perfect storm for a real estate frenzy. It’s a seller’s market—meaning if you want to buy, you can expect bidding wars and multiple contracts.

But homebuyers, don’t lose hope. If you’re looking to make a move this season, we caught up with some of the region’s most successful agents to find out what it takes to win out on your dream home—and make sure you get top dollar if you’re selling your own.

“We’re at the beginning, hopefully, of a very strong market,” says Christine Richardson, board president of Northern Virginia Association of Realtors and a realtor with Weichert Realtors. The announcement last November that Amazon will build its second U.S. headquarters in Arlington County is expected to propel local real estate prices even higher, she says. In fact, local real estate trends are already reflecting Amazon’s impending presence. In 2018, the average time for a house to be on the market was 80 days. Thus far in 2019, it’s 63 days.

“Since the Amazon announcement, home sales have been up every month. Pulling out of New York could translate to more jobs in the DC market. It’s just a little challenging to be shopping in this market right now for the really desirable homes [because] there are going to be multiple people also wanting to buy them,” says Richardson.

And though interest rates are currently low, as they go up, buyers feel an urgency to move quickly.

“Unfortunately, it means they have to work harder to get a house,” explains Richardson. “They’re going to be competing with other buyers to make more attractive offers.”

Richardson remains hopeful on behalf of buyers though. She anticipates that more inventory will become available in spring, which is a cyclical occurrence as the weather warms up.

And, rest assured, a competitive market does not mean you’re doomed to lose out on every offer. Richardson says both buyers and agents today are more informed and well-researched than ever—which can give them an advantage in this market.

“Agents are being careful to look at the numbers,” Richardson says. “Buyers are extremely well-educated and so are their realtors. They’re working together to make sure buyers are making a smart investment.”

Sue Goodhart
Sue Goodhart (Photo courtesy of self)

Sue Goodhart

Executive Vice President of the Goodhart Group, Compass

Sue Goodhart got into real estate by accident.

“My husband and I thought, ‘We try it and see,’ and it turned out pretty well,” she says.

That was in 1992. Now, 26 years later, she oversees the Goodhart Group of Compass Real Estate alongside her husband, Marty, and daughter, Allison.

In her time as a real estate agent, Sue has learned that there is no such thing as one way to work with a client. Some clients, she says, rely more on statistics and numbers. Some need a very personal touch, while others want to keep everything on a strictly professional basis. But the key is to get a strong outcome where the client is happy.

“We listen to their needs and help them get (to a good result),” she says, “even if you have to tell them what they don’t want to hear.”

Expert Advice

Why is now a good time to buy?
Rates are great. The market appears to be going up, so it’s probably a good time to buy and realize an appreciation over time.
What one piece of advice do you give clients when they’re starting their house hunt?
Be open to exploring different possibilities.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you about being a successful realtor?
Don’t just be an agent, be an agent who owns their own business. You can’t stay stagnant in the marketplace. Every time you close a transaction, you’re out of business.
When selling, is staging necessary?
Not necessarily staging, but certainly decluttering. Ninety percent of buyers first see the house online. If it doesn’t photograph well, they’re going to move on.
What should buyers take into account when they’re setting their budget for a home?
They need to be cognizant of the cost of maintaining a home and the condition of a home when they’re buying it.

Tracey Barret
Tracey Barret (Photo courtesy of self)

Tracey Barrett

Realtor and Team Leader for FOCUS on NOVA REAL ESTATE®, Century 21 Redwood Realty

Tracey Barrett began her career as a clinical research coordinator on HIV drug trials. But when she had children and found she needed more time, her mother-in-law, a realtor, joked that she should try real estate.

Now, the two are business partners.

“We make a heck of a team,” Barrett says.

Though real estate and clinical research couldn’t sound more different, Barrett says they’re actually similar. “There’s a practice that’s tried and true. I’m surrounded by brilliant people who help the client—or the patient—have a good experience. I end up helping people navigate what can be a very arduous process, and they come out on the other end with a better product.”
She describes her approach to real estate as educational and collaborative, helping clients understand their options to allow them to make the best decision for themselves.
“I’m here to take the wheel when necessary, but I am never going to make a decision for you.”

Expert Advice 

What is one thing clients are usually surprised by when they start house hunting?
If people are not from our area … the sticker shock is real. It’s palpable. I made someone cry once.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you about being a successful realtor?
My job is to educate and convey information. There is no place for my emotional opinions or presumptions.
Why is now a good time to sell?
Inventory is low. If you have a good product, you’re going to get a lot of interest, a good price and (desirable) terms.
On average, how many houses should you expect to tour before bidding?
In classes, they say you shouldn’t look at more than 12. It depends on the individual. Most of my purchasers look at under 15.
Why is now a good time to buy?
Sellers who have tried to put the best possible product on the market have been working all winter to make that happen.

Phyllis Patterson
Phyllis Patterson (Photo courtesy of self)

Phyllis Patterson

Senior Vice President, The Patterson Group, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

For Phyllis Patterson, real estate is all about community and family. In her 32 years in practice, she says she’s helped clients find not just homes, but babysitters, churches, nail salons and more.

“Clients have become friends,” she says. “We are not a transaction-based group.”

“We build you a community,” adds her daughter, Britt, who works with her mother, along with younger sister, Paige.

Phyllis began her career in government relations, but an anxiety-producing house purchase led her to wonder whether she could make the process of becoming a homeowner smoother for others. Today, she is the leader of The Patterson Real Estate Group of TTR Sotheby’s, which specializes in properties in Arlington, Alexandria and DC.
Phyllis prides herself and her team on cultivating a personable, hands-on approach.

“We’re ourselves,” she says. “We’re honest, respectful of time and informative. We try to give you the value of the neighborhood.”

Expert Advice

What one piece of advice do you give clients when they’re starting their house hunt?
Get a local lender and a realtor who specializes in the neighborhood you want to buy in. A realtor needs to be a valued asset for the neighborhood.
When selling, is staging necessary?
Absolutely. HGTV has done it. They’ve ruined us all.
What else makes your home stand out to buyers?
Clean. There’s an old saying: If can you smell it, you can’t sell it. It goes from a home, to a house, to a product.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you about being a successful realtor?
Be honest. Do not lie. You cannot lie to people.
What things are you seeing that are must-haves for buyers right now?
Younger buyers are willing to pay a little more for move-in ready because they can mortgage it, but they don’t have the cash to upgrade.

Megan Fass
Megan Fass (Photo courtesy of self)

Megan Fass

Principal Broker and Owner, FASS Results LLC

For Megan Fass, real estate is about dream fulfillment.

“I love helping people,” she says. “It can be a very stressful time, buying and selling. I love to make it a fun journey, helping people’s dreams come true; get to that next phase in life.”

Megan got into real estate 15 years ago, first as a side gig from her work at a financial consulting firm, then moving into full time as her client roster increased.

Now, as principal broker at FASS Results, she leads a team of six.

As she moved into full-time real estate, Megan developed a personalized, educational approach to inform her clients of all their options, and the risks and rewards associated with each of those options.

She also remembers—and practices—a valuable piece of advice she was once given: “Always do the right thing. Really look out for your clients’ best interest. Everybody wins.”

Expert Advice

Why is now a good time to buy?
Buy if it makes sense to you, rather than trying to time the market. I like people to find the right home, even if that takes longer.
What one piece of advice do you give clients when they’re starting their house hunt?
Be open to what they think they want changing.
What one piece of advice do you give clients when they’re selling their house?
They have 90 seconds with the buyer, so they have to make it count.
What should buyers take into account when they’re setting their budget for a home?
I don’t recommend someone buying a property unless they plan on being there three to five years.
When should potential buyers start examining their finances?
Before they start looking at houses.

Dawn Wilson
Dawn Wilson (Photo courtesy of self)

Dawn Wilson

Realtor, TTR Sotheby’s International Realty

After 9/11, Dawn Wilson wanted to bring positivity to the world.

“I thought I could bring positivity to people looking for their homes,” she says.

As an attorney, Dawn is familiar with contracts, so she applies that familiarity to her passion for helping people find homes.

“It’s gratifying to be able to help people get the homes they want,” she says. “When it’s time for them to move on to the next stage in their lives, I love being able to help people sell their homes so they can move on to the next thing they want to do.”

Her hands-on, information-based approach means that Wilson often works with the same clients multiple times. A former divorce lawyer, she is a certified real estate divorce specialist, helping those clients navigate a particular aspect of an often tricky and painful time.

“I’m with them every step of the way,” she says.

Expert Advice

Why is now a good time to buy?
There’s a lot of excitement about the Amazon move. It’s a great time to buy before the prices go up.
What one piece of advice do you give clients when they’re starting their house hunt?
No one can get everything they want at a comfortable price, so think about what’s most important and focus on a couple of those things.
When selling, is staging necessary?
Staging is the entire presentation process. First and foremost, put money into repairs. Use your budget to make a difference to buyers.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you about being a successful realtor?
Have processes in place.
What things are you seeing that are must-haves for buyers right now?
Most people that I work with are concerned about their commute. That’s pretty much number one.

Chris Ognek
Chris Ognek (Photo courtesy of self)

Chris Ognek

Principal, Q Real Estate

No two days as a real estate agent are the same, and that’s exactly what Chris Ognek wanted when he got out of the military 13 years ago.

“I wanted to have my own business and I was attracted to real estate because it involved so many things,” he says. “I love the dynamics, the challenges, putting pieces together for folks and giving them the best solutions.”

When it comes to working with clients, Ognek, whose geographic territory is “everything from Fredericksburg to the beltway,” says he wants to impart knowledge they can use beyond the course of a singular transaction.

“I’m very consultative along the way,” he says. “I keep them as informed as I can and try to teach them as much as I can.”

Expert Advice

Why is now a good time to buy?
Historically, owning your own home has been one of the best investments you can make.
What one piece of advice do you give clients when they’re selling their house?
Planning is everything: Talk to an agent up to 12 months before you’re planning on selling.
What things are you seeing that are must-haves for buyers right now?
Everything around here is driven by commute distance. You’re not just buying a house, you’re buying a lifestyle.
What is one thing clients are usually surprised by when they start house hunting?
What they don’t know—how much they don’t know.
What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you about being a successful realtor?
Sales isn’t about selling, it’s about solving problems. The better solutions you can find to problems, the more successful you’ll be.

Keri Shull
Keri Shull (Photo courtesy of self)

Keri Shull

Founder and CEO, The Keri Shull Team 

Growing up, Keri Shull moved 13 times before the age of 18, so she saw a lot of real estate agents in action, including a lot of bad ones.

“I remember my dad actually crying,” she recalls of one particularly terrible transaction.

It wasn’t a path she imagined for herself, but when she was recruited to work for a builder after college, she eventually transitioned into real estate, aiming to give her clients better experiences than some of the ones she and her family had.

“When I got in the business I remember feeling this freedom because I could find the thing that would make people happy,” she says.

Working from the old adage that home is where the heart is, Shull recognizes that buying or selling a home can be an emotional experience for clients, and she structures her approach accordingly.

“I treat them like family. There’s so much stress on marriages and children and on health issues. What someone needs when they’re looking for a home is support and grace,” she explains. “My style is to go where others won’t necessarily go, and because of that I create really deep relationships with clients.”

Expert Advice

What one piece of advice do you give clients when they’re starting their house hunt?
Study the sold comparables instead of focusing on what’s active. We call it a reality check analysis.
On average, how many houses should you expect to tour before bidding?
That has dramatically changed. People have looked at hundreds of properties online. It’s not unusual the first day we go out to get it right.
Why is now a good time to sell?
People moving up: The market is fast-paced, interest rates are low. Downsizers: Make decisions based on emotional health. The market is going to trend up.
What are some things that will change the local real estate market this year?
There’s a longer term play financially. With Amazon coming, we’re going to see there are more companies that want to be here.
What should buyers take into account when they’re setting their budget for a home?
Their lifestyle and their goals. For some buyers, buying a home is a forced savings account.

Tips for Competitive Buyers

Found your dream home? Christine Richardson, Northern Virginia Association of Realtors’ board president, gave us some tips for standing out.
  • Offer an escalation addendum. This means you give your agent permission to exceed a competing offer to a certain point, i.e., “ I’ll beat by $X, not to exceed $Y.” Usually X equals 1,000.
  • Give the seller choice of settlement date.
  • Free rent-back. Rent-back is when a seller will pay rent to a buyer to stay in the house past the settlement date.
  • Relax some contingencies. For example, agree that you won’t ask seller to make repairs after home inspection, you’ll just say yes or no to the sale after the inspection is completed.
  • Waive the lender’s appraisal contingencies. That way, a seller doesn’t have to worry that a loan will be turned down.

This post was originally published in our May 2019 issue. Interested in more home content? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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