The real estate market is ever-changing — keeping buyers, sellers and Realtors busy trying to keep up with the latest trends and forecasts. Since the start of a new season is always a good time to reflect on what’s happening in the market, we recently asked Ann and John VanderSyde, a husband and wife team with Virginia Properties, a Long & Foster Company, to share their thoughts on what’s happening in Richmond.
As a team specializing in residential real estate, are you noticing any specific trends right now?
John: There are some specific areas – The Fan, the Museum District, the Near West End, Bellevue, and neighborhoods close-in – where we’re seeing an increase in quick contracts and multiple offers.
Ann: We’ve been in situations where sellers have had 5-10 contracts to look at when they’re making their decision.
Is this something you’ve just begun seeing?
John: Just recently, since spring, I’d say.
Ann: What’s happening is that there’s not a lot of inventory in these areas and there are a lot of buyers who have been waiting and wanting to buy. So there is just far more demand than there is supply at the moment. I think that in those particular areas, the trend in general is that many people are looking for walkable neighborhoods. People don’t want to have to get in their car to get groceries, or go get coffee or walk to a destination. They want the lifestyle that comes along with being relatively close to where they live their lives.
John: The combination of an urban atmosphere and walkability is very appealing to a younger crowd, or for people who are looking to down-size their home and want to be closer into town for convenience.
Ann: And we’ve had a lot of relocation work, people coming in from out of town. Typically they’re not buying their first house and they may be coming in with one of the larger companies. They’re also looking for walkability. They really want that urban feel.
So would you say that walkability is a new trend?
Ann: I think it’s been growing, especially since the economy started improving. During the real estate bubble people were looking for bigger homes – they wanted space, they were gravitating to that. I think as a result of where the economy has been, people are now a little more conservative. They’d rather be closer to where they live and work without adding in a commute.
John: I don’t think it’s a new trend; I think it’s a more pronounced trend. It’s happening with more frequency.
Ann: I think it goes along with people being a little more careful with their money. They’d rather have a house closer-in, even if it’s a little smaller, one that they can make nicer improvements on a smaller scale.
John: And the interesting thing I picked up on is that the prices of the houses in these areas aren’t skyrocketing. The prices are improving, but in order to generate the interest that develops into multiple offers, sellers are still pricing their homes compellingly and letting the purchaser chase the price and bid the house up.
Ann: It’s exciting to see the activity picking up. A lot of sellers feel more confident about getting their house sold now. So I think there are people putting their house on the market now that for the last couple years have really held off. They just didn’t feel like it was in their best interest. The inventory has not caught up with the demand but I think sellers are gaining some confidence.
Several years ago people were looking for luxury amenities. Has that changed at all? Have people scaled back a little on what they’re looking for in the house itself?
John: Well there are people out there who will compromise a little bit if they’re looking to do some work themselves; in general, purchasers still are looking for a “diamond.”
Ann: Many are looking for what I’d call a “jewel box,” they don’t need all of the expansive space but they still want the home to be updated.
John: Most people are not looking for a project, but they’re willing to compromise on space in order to get a little nicer finish.
Do you find that the houses in the hot selling areas fall into that category?
John: In many instances, yes. We’re seeing homes sell that wouldn’t have sold a year or two ago because they needed work – the sellers couldn’t get the price then because they knew people were not compromising on condition. Now I think there are people out there who are willing to do some work in order to get into a location that they want.
Ann: I think that the prices are going up and some people can’t afford to buy in an area they want to be in – with a finished house that might be their ideal. So they’ll purchase a house and take on the projects.
John: Although buyers will still not jump into just anything. It’s got to be the right house.
Is there a trend in amenities right now?
John: We just had an open house in Chesterfield and I would say that 90 percent of the people who came thorough were drawn to it because it had a basement.
Ann: I think that people still notice the kitchen. People still want a nice master suite and they want it to be nicely done. People are split on whether they want just the tub or the shower, but a nice master suite is a plus. Especially in some of the smaller homes in the Fan and the Museum District, where oftentimes the home only has one bathroom upstairs – houses with two bathrooms are huge. It doesn’t mean that people won’t take a one-bath house. But we always tell people that having two baths, where one is part of a suite, is a good investment. It will make their house much easier to sell.
I also think people like to entertain and they don’t like to be limited. They like having an additional room, somewhere where people can gather – an area that can be a family room and a living room.
John: If there is a basement, especially with enough ceiling height that it could be finished, they’re looking for that as additional family space – potentially easily expandable living space. That’s another little trend I think.
Is there any staging advice you’re giving now that people are responding to?
John: The first and foremost thing that we cannot emphasize enough is paint. If people would just spend a couple hundred to a thousand dollars in paint – it pays for itself.
Ann: We always use the expression, $30 in the can, $3,000 on the walls. It does a tremendous amount to make a house feel fresh and clean and gives the buyer the feeling that they don’t have to touch every room.
John: And it doesn’t have to be white on white.
Ann: I recommend soft neutrals, earthtones are nice, and people particularly like grey tones now. The other big staging emphasis is decluttering. Pack up what you’re going to be moving anyway; go ahead and put things in boxes and get a POD or storage unit. Houses show better with something as opposed to a vacant house.
John: Usually we can work with the furniture that they have for the staging. We may ask a seller to take out some things or we’ll just rearrange what they have. These are pretty simple things that don’t cost a lot.
Ann: We try to do as much preparation as we can up front. As a seller you get one chance with the buyer. If they’re not impressed or emotionally engaged with your house the first time, they won’t be back. So you really want to make the best first impression. It’s important to make the entry attractive. Give it some curb appeal– clean up the yard, the beds, put down mulch. Add simple things like a new doormat or a new mailbox. We give our sellers a checklist so that they can at least hit the most important things.
Anything else you’d like to note for our readers?
Ann: A lot of buyers will get started on their own just looking around and getting familiar with different areas through what’s online. But I feel that when someone gets serious about purchasing a home that they find a buyer’s agent and they get representation – somebody’s who’s looking out for their best interests. The buying process had gotten so much more complicated and there are new changes coming out in August with closing statements, and new requirements that the attorneys and the lenders will have to follow; it’s only going to get more complicated. It’s to the consumers’ benefit to have somebody representing their interests and guiding them through the process. That’s really my advice on both sides, because even as a seller, with the market getting better and houses selling – having someone who’s going to market your house and get more potential buyers in there is going to benefit you in the long run.
I would think that advice would be especially important for first-time buyers.
Ann: Absolutely. They’re really focused on what they can get with for money. They start out with the hope of being in a particular area, but then when they look there and they realize what’s available they might compromise – or decide they might go to a different area to get more of what they’re looking for. We try to keep that wide open for them so that they really do have options. Richmond has so many wonderful neighborhoods – there are so many good options.
John: There’s definitely something for everybody. You can find generally what you’re looking for in a couple of different locations.