Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Woodbridge, VA Commuting Options

Are you moving to Woodbridge, VA? Do you need to know what your commuting options are?  One of the biggest headaches in this part of the US is the traffic, particularly I-95.  Thankfully, there are some options to reduce some of the stress.  As you make a decision where to live in Woodbridge consider where the primary commuter stations are located and whether they service your area of employment.

Note that most of these transportation services operate mostly during rush hour times.  These are not options for commuting to DC on a weekend or at off-peak hours. 

VRE:  The Virginia Railway Express is the train that connects Woodbridge to DC.  The upside is that it also connects to some of the major stops for the DC Metro. For more information go to www.vre.org.
Slug lines:  Although many are hesitant at first, it is a popular form of transportation here in the DC area.  You are basically hitching a ride from individuals that want to be able to use the HOV lanes.  For more info go to www.sluglines.com
OmniRide:  Bus line linking the Woodbridge area to primary work locations within the Beltway. For more info go to www.PRTCtransit.org
Ridesharing:  This is a free service that will match your commuting needs with other residents.  For more info go to www.PRTCtransit.org

Woodbridge Commuting Options will show you where the primary commuter lots are located in Woodbridge.  This interactive map will also allow you to click on the marker and find out what the primary destinations are for each lot.  Please double check the information at the individual websites as it is possible that I might have made an error or that they have updated their schedules.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cheaply Remodelling a Bathroom

It is very rare that a buyer will find the "perfect" home.   Some sacrifices will have to be made because most of us are working within a budget. What you don't want to sacrifice are the "bones" of the home (structure, roof, HVAC, etc), the floor plan, and the size of the rooms.  However, there are a lot of cosmetic issues that will become a deal breaker for many buyers when in reality, they can easily be changed with a little bit of sweat equity.  Here is an example of how to cheaply remodel a half bath.

I remodeled the half bath when we purchased a colonial that was almost 50 years old.  The existing bath when we first moved in was very dated.  I wanted to make it classy without breaking the bank.  I splurged on the toilet and faucet because I wanted "eco options," but there are a lot cheaper toilets/facuets that will also look nice.

Toilet  $275.00 (I saw some nice looking ones for as low as $100)
Vanity and Top: $130.00
Mirror  $55.00
Vinyl Tile  $20.00 (.69 cents per tile) (super easy to install)
Faucet $150.00   (but classy styles as low as $80).
Misc Supplies $50.00  (caulking, glue, etc).

Dated Bathroom
Cheaply Remodelled Bathroom
Doing it yourself will save you hundreds of dollars.  Installing the toilets, vanity, faucets can be pretty easy if you take the time to read directions, use a little common sense, and have patience.  If you have never done it before (which I had not), you can google instructions and many times you will find YouTube videos that teach you step-by-step.  Also, make sure you plan out what makes more sense to do first, which most likely will be the tile.

Insulating Your Attic

Heating and cooling many times will eat away at your monthly budget.  To keep utility expenses down, consider doing things around your house that will keep cool or hot air from escaping.  One very important way to do that is to make sure that your attic is well insulated.  In the winter months, hot air rises and you will lose heat through a badly insulated attic.  In the summer months, the attic gets very hot and that heat will transfer to the rest of your house forcing your air conditioner to work even harder.

Insulating the attic yourself is rather simple and easy and can be done for a few hundred dollars depending on the insulation you choose.  I personally like the GreenFiber because it is eco-friendly.  It can be found either at Home Depot or Lowes.  If you buy 20 bags or more, they will rent you the sprayer for free. Also, remember, before you insulate, to make sure to seal or air leakages in the attic such as areas around recessed lights, vents, etc.  All of these little things are inexpensive and will keep your heating and cooling bills low.

Pellet Stove May be Worth it For the Long Term

My husband and I just purchased an older home that has oil heat.  When I was an active Realtor, I had sold homes before with oil heat, but never really understood all the dynamics behind them and frankly, oil heat is not very common in a lot of areas around Washington, D.C., where I was actively practicing real estate.  When you have oil heat, the radiators are low to the ground.  It is actually a more efficient way of heating a home than central air because hot air tends to rise.  Vents are a lot of times in the ceilings and that makes your system work twice as hard because it has to pump more air to heat up the room.

What is the problem with oil heat?  The oil itself is expensive!!  It costs us approximate $650 to fill up our tank in the current market.  We had to fill it up four times during the winter and once in the summer to heat our hot water and that still meant trying to keep the house at an average of about 60 degrees.  That comes out to an average of $520 for the fall/winter months mid-October through mid-March.  In comparison when we had gas heat in our old home of a similar size, the highest month in the winter would be $185 and during the summer $35.00.   My guess is that if I had to estimate how much oil was for us during the coldest month in the winter, it would probably be around $650!!

Since gas is not available in our area, my husband and I started looking at alternatives.  Many suggested a pellet stove to insert into our existing fireplace.  I had never heard of such a thing so I was a bit skeptical, but my husband insisted.  Since we plan to be in this home for the long term, we made the investment. We are impressed.  That little thing has kept my bottom floor at a cozy 70 degrees and can keep the upstairs to about 55 degrees during the coldest months (in the 20s outside) with no help from the oil heater.  And the top floor heats up only because hot air rises and finds its way into the top floor.  The oil heat acts only as supplemental heating to keep our upstairs in the mid-60s.


The pellet stove runs partially on electricity and mostly on wood pellets.  We were able to find a place that sold the pellets for $250 a ton and most people are estimating we needed 3 tons this past winter. The electricity use did get bumped up about $80 a month.  Doing the math on the pellets vs oil, with the pellet stove I am now spending around $420 a month (taking into account electricity, supplemental oil heat, and pellets) so I am saving around $500 for the season.  I saved $500, but still kept the house at an average of 8 degrees higher than last year.  If I would have kept it at the same temperatures, my savings would have been significantly more.

My house is a 2000 sq foot above ground colonial (2 levels above ground).  I am not accounting for the space for the basement as it is now unfinished. Our stove is also not located in the best location and the installers warned us that it might not be able to heat the upstairs too well.  Even so, it is still doing a pretty decent job.  If your pellet stove is in a central location, you can potentially save even more.   If you currently have oil heat and/or electric heat, it most definitely might be worth looking into a pellet stove.  We are certainly glad we did.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fresh paint? or Toxic Air?

I am an environmentalist at heart.  I have been for sometime now, but it went into overdrive when my daughter was born 5 years ago.  So it is a natural progression for me to become more involved in "green" real estate as a Realtor.

A lot of my buyers will get excited when they smell the "fresh paint" on some of the homes.  Part of the excitement is that they know they won't have to do any repainting themselves, but few know how toxic that paint smell is.  Today's paints are less toxic than they were 10 years ago due to public demand but even low-VOC paints can still be harmful.  There are non-toxic paints out on the market and although more expensive, the health of your families will benefit in the long run (and this holds true for different types of paints and stains).  

Here are somethings you should know about paint.

1)  The EPA says that indoor air quality can be more seriously polluted than outdoor air and one of the causes is paint.
2) VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOC) are a traditional component of many oil based paints and even latex paints (and some of your household cleaners as well).
3) Exposure to VOCs can cause can cause the following symptoms:
  • conjunctival irritation
  • nose, throat discomfort
  • headache
  • allergic skin reaction
  • dyspnea
  • declines in serum cholinesterase levels
  • nausea, emesis
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • 4) Prolonged exposure has been linked to kidney and liver disease and even cancer.
    5)  VOCs continue to be released well after the paint dries (I am talking years)
    6) Zero-VOC paint will still have some level of VOCs but still at lower levels than traditional paints.
    7) Small children and the elderly are the most susceptible to the negative effects of VOCs in the air.

    I realize that as a buyer there are not a lot of homes that will use zero-VOC paints or non-toxic paints.   But you can choose to buy a home that has NOT been "freshly painted" and then paint it yourselves with the paint of your choice.  I know it is a lot more work and higher expense, but think about the savings in health care costs!

    As a buyer you should demand greener and healthier homes.  Eventually sellers will comply.

    My primary source for putting this blog together was Home Repair  and the EPA website at  www.epa.gov.

    Luisa Rodriguez
    Prestige Property Group
    Exit Choice Realty
    Woodbridge, VA 22192
    For quality service, please contact us and a member of our team will be more than happy to assist you.   


    Where to Live in Northern Virginia

    As a Realtor, I get this questions asked a lot.  As a Realtor, it is also difficult to answer.   Because of the rules and regulations that we have to abide by, rarely can we provide an opinion on a "safe neighborhood" or what is the "best neighborhood."  If you give me a list such as, "high rise condo with pool and gym, less than three miles from work, in an area with nightlife," then I can easily pull a list together.  However, once we start getting into areas that are more subjective, then it becomes a little more difficult because what is "great" for one person, may not be so "great" for another.

    The best way to get an idea of where to live is to see what your peers are saying and look at the local news for cities you are considering.  Here are some great places to start.

    50 Great Neighborhoods 
    Crime Reports
    WUSA9 Where You Live

    Luisa Rodriguez
    Exit Choice Realty
    Woodbridge, VA 22192
    For quality service, please contact us and a member of our team will be more than happy to assist you.   


    Military: Things to Consider When Moving to Northern Virginia

    Two of the major characteristics of the Northern Virginia area that drive the location of where most people will decide to live is driven by school districts and traffic.  For information on schools, check out the right column at My Website. If you do settle on a specific school district, then my team will do their best to create a geographic search that will limit properties to that area.

    Traffic in the Northern Virginia area can be stressful and painful.  The I-95 corridor looks like a parking lot during rush hour traffic and many commuters choose to arrive to work early to avoid some of that craziness.  The best way to reduce that stress is to choose an area near commuting hubs.  Even though the Metro is very popular within the "Beltway" (the area within the 495 loop), it is not the only commuting option.  Living inside the Beltway can be significantly more expensive that living outside the Beltway, so understanding what your commuting options are is critical before deciding on where to live.

    QUANTICO: If you will be stationed in Quantico, the areas closest to the base include Triangle, Woodbridge, Dumfries, Stafford, and Manassas.  Triangle, Dumfries, and Woodbridge lie directly to the north of the base. Manassas is to the West.  The advantages of living in those areas is that if you are driving to work, you will be moving AGAINST traffic.  You will face "base traffic" as you approach Quantico, but that is unavoidable and limited compared to general rush hour traffic.  However, the downside of living to the North of Quantico is that you will not be able to take advantage of some non-driving commuting options.  Commuter buses and trains tend to run North, away from Quantico in the mornings and South, towards Quantico in the afternoon. 
    You may choose to live south of the base in Stafford and some individuals will go as far away as Fredericksburg to take advantage of the cheaper housing prices.  You will definitely get more for your money.  The downside, is that you will be driving with traffic during rush hour.  However, you can take advantage of the commuter train, the VRE (http://www.vre.org) which has stops in Fredericksburg, Stafford and within the base in Quantico.

    FORT BELVOIR: The areas surrounding Fort Belvoir include Alexandria (generally North of the base), Springfield (northwest of the base), Lorton (to the West and Southwest), Woodbridge to the South. If you decide to live near the area of Kingstowne in Alexandria and near the Springfield Metro, the Fairfax Connector may be a good option if you are looking to take public transportation.  For more information on this possibility go to  (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/connector/routes/335.htm).  Choosing Alexandria and Lorton will be your best bet if you are trying to limit your distance from the base, but it will also be the pricier option.  Many choose to live in Woodbridge to get more for their money, but you will be running with traffic and hit rush hour.  Other than carpooling, as far as I have been able to find out, no other public options for commuting from Woodbridge to Belvoir are available.

    THE PENTAGON: The Pentagon is located in Arlington, VA and it is located within the Beltway.  The advantages of getting stationed at the Pentagon is that it is a commuting HUB which makes public transportation a great possibility regardless of where you decide to live. There is a Metro Stop at the pentagon itself as well as several bus stops, and slugging stops (a popular way of getting around in the Northern Virginia area).   However, real estate near the Pentagon is expensive compared to other areas so many do choose to live farther out.  Even if you decide to live in Woodbridge for example, which many people do, you will have a variety of public transportation options (train, bus, slugging). 

    In addition to the information I have provided here, please check out Neighborhood information on my website which provides more detailed commuting information for specific neighborhoods, or feel free to just call or email me. I would be more than happy to assist you.

    Luisa Rodriguez
    Exit Choice Realty
    Woodbridge, VA 22192
    For quality service, please contact us and a member of our team will be more than happy to assist you.   


    Are there Grants for First Time Home Buyers?

    The $5000 Grant for First Time Home Buyers is a program that is not very well known nor advertised.  Few lenders, from my knowledge, offer the program, but it is very much real and available although only in a few states.  Luckily, one of those states is Virginia.  Applicants will have to meet certain requirements and the program has many restrictions, but we have several clients that have bought homes using this program and in all reality, it has been a true God-sent for them.  It greatly reduces the amount of money that the buyer has to bring to the closing table and if the seller offers closing cost assistance, it puts the buyer in a much better position.

    Below, I list some of the requirements for the program in "bank speak." To summarize key points: income limits are based on the number of people in the household (the more people in the household, the higher the income limits).  The buyer must live in the house for at least 5 years or they will have to proportionally repay the grant money. You must be a first-time home buyer which usually means that you have not owned a home in the last 3 years.  Not listed below, but also an important point is that the buyer's credit score will need to meet a minimum requirement.

    In order to correctly determine whether the buyer will qualify or not, he/she will need to apply for the program.  If you are indeed a first time home buyer, then it is definitely worth trying, but I wouldn't sit on it.  The funds are limited.  If you are indeed interested in learning about this program, contact me ASAP so my team can help you take advantage of this great opportunity and help you find a great home!!

    • Maximum subsidy is $5000 per homebuyer
    • Funding is provided as a 4 to 1 match
    • The homebuyer must contribute at least $1,000
    • The homebuyer must have income that is less than or equal to 80% of HUD median income for the area, adjusted for family size
    • Purchased home must be used as the homebuyer's primary residence
    • Homebuyer must meet the definition of a first-time homebuyer as defined by the Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act of 1990
    • Retention period is five years
    • Borrower must complete Bank-prescribed financial literacy training
    • Home must be located in the Bank's district, which includes Alabama, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Virginia
    • Eligible properties include:
      • Owner-occupied 1-4 family properties
      • Townhouses, condos
      • Foreclosed properties
      • Cooperatives
      • Manufactured and Mobile Housing
      • New construction (within 30 days of closing) 



      Marjorie Chacon
      Prestige Property Group, LLC
      14067 Crown Ct
      WOODBRIDGE, VA 22193
      Direct: (703) 819-6337 
      Assistant: (240) 377-7104
      Office: Office (703)494-0404

                          For quality service, please contact us and a member of our team will be more than happy to assist you.   

                      When a Short Sale Does NOT Affect Your Credit Score

                       Many individuals who would otherwise attempt a short sale don't do so because they believe it will negatively affect their credit score.  However, if you are not in default (your payments are on time), there is a pretty good chance you can short sell with a limited effect on your credit. Not only that, but you may also be able to purchase immediately following the short sale.

                      The key to short selling while maintaining your credit is to be on time with your mortgage payments.  In fact, one of the primary reasons individuals have had their credit so negatively affected due to a short sale is because of the late payments, and not necessarily because of the short sale itself.  That is why it makes me cringe when I hear of individuals that have purposefully defaulted because they were led to believe that that is the only way the lender would approve the short sale.   My team will NEVER recommend that a client purposefully default on a loan in an effort to conduct a short sale.  It is not ethical for us to do so and it is not necessary.

                      One of the ways to find out if the short sale will affect your credit is to find out how the bank will report it to the creditors once the short sale is complete.  Each lender has a different policy, and a knowledgeable experienced negotiator will take that into consideration when negotiating the short sale.  Once a short sale is successfully negotiated, in many cases you may also be able to immediately buy another property following the short sale.  The ability of an individual to buy will be based on many factors, so make sure you are working with real estate professionals who are well versed in all the regulations pertaining to short sales.  My team has successfully helped such clients and my negotiator is one of the best in the business.

                      Of course, the above scenarios are for individuals who can continue to make their payments throughout the short sale process.  To many it may seem counter intuitive that if you are able to maintain your payments, that you will be able to honestly claim a hardship, the basis for any short sale approval.  A "hardship" can mean many different things, and you do not necessarily have to be in a dire situation to get a short sale approved.  For example, if you are in the military and being forced to PCS, that alone can be the basis for the hardship and the approval.  Again, each lender is different and have different policies, but that is why we are here.  We will look at your particular situation, and make a recommendation based on our experience on how the short sale will affect your credit and your ability to buy again in the near future.

                      My team works in Northern Virginia, but even if you are located in another state, contact me and through my network of realtors nationwide, I will try to find you a licensed Realtor that can help you in your geographic area.  

                      Luisa Rodriguez
                      Prestige Property Group
                      Exit Choice Realty
                      Woodbridge, VA 22193
                      For quality service, please contact us and a member of our team will be more than happy to assist you.