Story by Kaitlin Hill

Whether buying your first condo or selling your most recent mansion, navigating real estate negotiations can be challenging no matter the tax bracket. From staging your property to making an attractive offer on your dream home, Middleburg’s experts offer their advice to ensure you are properly prepped to take on the market with confidence.

Helen and Ann MacMahon are brokers at Sheridan-MacMahon Realtors. Lynn Wiley is a realtor at the Middleburg office of Washington Fine Properties. Kerrie Jenkins is a realtor with Middleburg Real Estate Atoka Properties. John Coles is a realtor with Thomas and Talbot.

ML: What advice would you give to a first-time homebuyer?

John: The best thing they can do is to figure out with the bank exactly what they can afford. It’s so easy to think you can afford one thing and not be able to afford it, and then you are looking at the wrong house.

Lynn: Be sure their financial house is in order – that they have checked their credit ratings and know what their financial abilities are…The second most important thing I would tell a first-time homebuyer is to study the geography in which they want to live.

ML: What are the most important questions to ask when touring a home?

Lynn: Does it have internet service? Does it have cellphone service? If they’re not in a village, town or city, if they are outside the parameters of a municipality, the first question they should ask is, ‘What are the services for cell and internet?’ If there is no hardline service, then they need to be prepared to investigate the options to get the necessary utilities.

Kerrie: When touring a home be sure to ask about the age of major systems and roof. Look for any signs of water damage. If you are looking at a home in a sub-division, ask about HOA fees and condo fees. These will certainly affect the affordability of the home.

ML: What can homebuyers do to look more competitive when making an offer?

Kerrie: Cash is king when making an offer of course; but, if you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars laying around (or you feel your money will do more in the market than tied up in real estate), fear not! You can still write a strong competitive offer that is contingent upon financing. Twenty percent down and a no home-sale contingency is a start. Offering to make up the difference in offer price and appraisal price (should it come in low) is always attractive. A strong Earnest Money Deposit is another way to show the seller that you are a solid buyer.

Helen: Make sure they have all their financials done on the front end. It can be a really tedious and thorough process. And it can be really grueling. If they get that all lined up with the lender, the experience will be more fun because that can be the hard part.

ML: What preparatory steps can sellers take to showcase their homes in the best light?

Kerrie: De-clutter, De-clutter, De-clutter. Marie Kondo your pants off! You want to make your home look as big and roomy as possible! Allow your realtor to help you arrange furniture to stage for showing. Do something to add to the curb appeal of your home. If there is a For Sale sign in your lawn, that lawn and landscaping better look pristine at all times! Add a flower pot with colorful blooms to make your entryway inviting.

Lynn: If the house is an older home and they’ve been in it for a long time, they will want to have a home inspection done, so they know deficiencies in the property…That way, they can put their best foot forward by doing some corrective measures before putting the house on the market.

ML: What resources can someone selling his or her home use to be more confident in the process?

John: If they don’t know what [their home] is worth, they can always use an appraiser. That’s a third person giving them the number. It’s not the realtor giving them a number, it’s not their number, it’s the real number.

Ann: Pick the best agent. [Buyers] should interview the most productive agents in their area and make an educated choice.

ML: What piece of advice would you give to homeowners when their home hasn’t sold as quickly as they hoped?

Kerrie: Think objectively. Every seller has an idea of what they think their home is worth. Years of loving care and happy memories can affect perceived value. Sellers must try to put sentimental feelings aside and look at their property as an appraiser would – objectively. Listen to your agent when pricing your house to begin with. Homes that are priced right from the start sell much faster! So, don’t be afraid of a price drop. It renews the listing and usually generates more interest. Plus, it’s usually more cost effective to get a quick offer at a lower price than continue paying carrying costs as your home sits.

Helen: I would tell them to remember that in the beginning, we probably talked about pricing it lower. It’s almost always about price. It’s an obvious answer, but I think it is important to be realistic.

ML: Are there any unique challenges or rewards working real estate in Hunt Country?

Lynn: The rewards far outweigh the challenges. The variety of interesting people who want to live here – it’s a melting pot. I think that’s the best part of the whole deal.

Helen: It’s a really unique place. There are nuances within the individual areas of our whole area…it’s not that cut and dry. There is a lot more to our market than people can learn when just searching online.
Ann: You get to meet the most interesting people, see a lot of beautiful properties, and you make good friends.

This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.